Joao Almeida (Deceuninck–QuickStep) saw his Giro d’Italia dreams disintegrate after a horrible showing in the rain on Stage 4.
Almeida held the maglia rosa from Stage 3 through to Stage 17 at the 2020 edition before his valiant challenge came to an end, with Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart ultimately taking the jersey for Ineos Grenadiers.
Another season wiser, the 22-year-old was expected to be a key challenger this time around and was handed joint-leadership alongside the prodigiously talented Remco Evenepoel.
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But his challenge came to a meek and premature end on a rain-soaked ride from Piacenza to Sestola as he leaked nearly six minutes on stage winner Joe Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates).
Most of the damage was done in the final 10 kilometres when the fancied GC riders showed their hands on a late climb.
Almeida now sits 42nd in the GC, over five minutes adrift in the race for the maglia rosa and 3’ 10” down on team-mate Evenepoel.
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"Look, as long as Evenepoel is there, I think Deceuninck–QuickStep will be happy. It’s sorted that problem out. [From] joint leaders, one leader now,” said Brian Smith on The Breakaway.
Almeida’s name was already in the headlines prior to Tuesday’s collapse after Deceuninck boss Patrick Lefevere admitted he would leave the team after the current season.
"There’s no coming back from the chunk of time he lost today,” said Dan Lloyd.
"I was really surprised to see him pull the pin in the way that he did because when we saw him getting distanced, the gap wasn’t getting larger particularly quickly. I thought he might lose 20, 30, 40 seconds but I thought he would keep plugging away and try to limit his losses.
"But it looked by the way he rode towards the finish that he had decided he hasn’t got it, which is a big surprise. I was not expecting that at this point in the race.
"To be honest, I didn’t expect to see Almeida up there on the podium despite what he did last year. But I didn’t expect to see him out of it so early on."
Almeida is a client of Jorge Mendes, the renowned super-agent who also has football stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho on his books.
On his Eurosport podcast, Bradley Wiggins also waded in on the row about Mendes’ involvement and said he was conflicted.
Will Simon Yates be worried?
‘Should Simon Yates be worried? I don’t think so’
Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) arrived at the Giro as one of the favourites alongside Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), but saw the Colombian take 11 seconds on him in the finale to Stage 4.
The recent Tour of the Alps winner has had two stabs at winning the Giro previously, surrendering the maglia rosa to Chris Froome in 2018 after a dramatic final-week collapse before failing to deliver a year later despite some spicy pre-race talk.
"There are going to be a few people licking their wounds a little bit," said Smith.
"Coming into this race, Simon Yates was probably the favourite. He lost a little bit of time. Should he be worried? I don’t think he should be because he only lost 11 seconds to the others in the end.
"There’s still a long way to go as everybody says, but you have to look at Jumbo-Visma – [Tobias] Foss and [George] Bennett – and then further back Almeida. How much pressure is on Evenepoel’s shoulders now?”
The Giro continues on Wednesday with a pan-flat Stage 5, which should see the GC rivals regroup ahead of Thursday’s maiden voyage to the mountains.
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