João Almeida hoping for third time lucky at Giro d'Italia as he aims for fewer mistakes

UAE-Team Emirates' new Portugese GC hope talks switching up training, working with Tadej Pogačar and how he can improve

João Almeida
João Almeida attacks on stage 19 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Getty Images)

At almost any other point in cycling history, a 23 year old who had finished 4th and 6th in his first two grand tours would be seized upon as the next prodigy.

João Almeida must therefore feel unfortunate to be born into the era of Tadej Pogačar and Egan Bernal, where those feats seem a lot more normal.

The Portugese rider has moved to Pogačar's team, UAE-Team Emirates, with the hope of triumphing at the Giro d'Italia at his third attempt. With the full backing of his new outfit, he feels like this is possible.

Speaking to the media at his team's press day during their training camp, Almeida made it clear what his 2022 aim will be.

"The Giro is going to be my main goal," he said. "All the races and preparation will have a focus on the Giro. Hopefully, I will be in my best shape here. I will always give everything, to help the team as well. We are going to give everything we have."

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Almeida has only been a professional rider for two years, but his consecutive top-six finishes at the Giro mark him out as one to watch. UAE rate him so highly that they have given him a contract until 2026, which is of the same length as two-time grand tour winner Egan Bernal's is with Ineos Grenadiers.

"The team has shown a lot of confidence in me," he explained. "I'm still young, so having a team like this show that they trust me. Of course, every team goes there with the goal to win, but only one guy can win. 

"The only thing I can promise is that I'm going to work really hard to be in my best shape, and do all the sacrifices and everything I can do, so we can go there and be as close as possible to the goal."

In the past two editions of the Giro, the young Portuguese rider has benefited from superior performances in the time trials, and so he will have to switch his focus with the 2022 route featuring only 26km of individual time trialling.

"It's not a Giro with a lot of time trialling kilometres," Almeida said. "I think more TTs would be ideal for me, but it is what it is. 

"In the end, there’s a lot of climbing, but overall in the Grand Tours, the main decisions are made on the climbs. In the time trials, there are one or two spots difference, so you can improve your position, but overall it’s the climbs that make the biggest difference. Being a Giro like this we will focus more on climbing and maybe less on the TT."

Changing teams is a bigger deal than some imagine; indeed Almeida pointed out that he has "basically changed everything" in his move from Deceuninck-Quick Step to UAE-Team Emirates. Changes include a new bike, new groupset - Campagnolo - to get used to, and a new training plan. However, he said that the overhaul had been a positive experience, adding "overall things have gone really well".

His new coach is Iñigo San Millán, who also looks after Pogačar, and while he noted that "training is quite a personal thing", he said that his plans have been changed.

"The training plan is different to the one I was used to with my old coach at Deceuninck-QuickStep. So far it has been really good, we have been discussing the training. I've been improving... and I feel good with this training. We will keep watching this and see how I react."

In August last year Almeida triumphed overall for the first time, winning the Tour of Poland before also winning the Tour de Luxembourg. He admitted that one thing that he needed to improve on was his decision making during races. 

"I've made a few mistakes," he said. "Sometimes, I would attack for no reason at all, so maybe I should be more conservative sometimes. But other times maybe I needed to attack more.

"You can never be too smart or too intelligent. Of course, being able to read the race better, to understand the opponents. Race after race with experience I think things comes naturally. So far I’ve been doing good but there’s always a lot to learn and to improve so we are here for that as well."

At the 2020 Giro Almeida spent 15 days in the pink jersey until stage 18, where he came a cropper on the Stelvio. In 2021, his race was interrupted by the work he was forced to do for his then teammate Remco Evenepoel, but he fought back into the top ten in the final week.

Almeida will be expected to work for Pogačar at some races, potentially the Vuelta a España this year, but he said that racing in support of his decorated team mate would be a "pleasure".

"I feel very good with this," Almeida said. "It will be a pleasure to race with Tadej. He’s one of the best cyclists ever - not just for the present. Being able to race with him, learn from him, be part of his team, and help him reach good results and win race, it makes me feel good to be a part of it and it gives me motivation for the future."

He is also enjoying being at a team with a more direct GC focus than Quick Step had. "I'm still quite young, so I can always learn with all these guys. Some of them have much more experience than I have. It's nice to have all those people, I can learn a lot with them, and have fun with them too. I'm excited."

Whatever happens, it is guaranteed that Almeida will be one to watch at the Giro, and few would bet against him being a contender now he has a team fully behind him. 

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