'It was my mistake': João Almeida takes the blame for losing Volta a Catalunya race lead

The Portuguese rider now sits third on GC, one second ahead of Nairo Quintana

João Almeida
(Image credit: Getty)

João Almeida has admitted that he was to blame for losing his lead at the Volta a Catalunya in spectacular fashion to Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe).

The UAE-Team Emirates rider, who won in the Pyrenees on stage four and then took control of the race a day later, was unable to bring back an early, daring attack from eventual stage winner Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Higuita.

It was only after 35km of racing that the two South Americans made their audacious move but they were not to be seen again until the finish by the coast, Almeida having ceded race leadership to Higuita and now sitting 52 seconds adrift of the Colombian.

Towards the finish, Almeida's teammate Juan Ayuso attacked himself and built a decent lead at one point before being called back, the pair eventually finishing together.

"It was not perfect," the 23-year-old rued to Cycling Weekly after the stage. "To be honest, it was my mistake. 

"I started the first climb way too far back but that’s bike racing: we do some mistakes sometimes, and it was a hard day out there. I think the whole peloton was worried today with these conditions, and in the end it wasn’t too bad and tomorrow’s another day.

"We were expecting it to be a hard stage. It wouldn’t be easy but the attack from both of them we were not expecting that for sure.

"But as I said in the end it was my mistake and Juan’s mistake: we started too far back, but still we are very grateful for our teammates who worked so hard for us the whole day."

In a day that highlighted old failings for the team in controlling races, no teams worked with UAE until Uno-X did so with 40km left to race. "That's normal," Almeida reflected. "We have the leader’s jersey, we also have a good team, and if I was in the other team’s place, I would also do the same thing. It’s bike racing."

Less than half an hour from the finish, Ayuso - who was just 16 seconds shy of teammate Almeida on GC after collecting two bonus seconds in intermediate sprints -  attacked from the peloton.

A chase group including Wout Poels and Nairo Quintana held Ayuso at around 20 seconds, before the Spanish teenager seemed to have been told to sit up.

At the end of the stage Ayuso and Almeida discussed in both English and Spanish what happened for more than 10 minutes with the team's general manager, Joxean Fernández Matxin. 

Nineteen-year-old Ayuso appeared to be saying that he had communication issues, and Almeida said that he gave the youngster his blessing to make his move.

"I had a little bit too much [tyre] pressure, so I was slipping a bit on the corners," he continued. 

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"So I told Ayuso to go solo because he had a good distance and in the end it worked as he was in the front group with some riders and then I was in another group, and they had to work also. 

"There was the Ineos guy pulling on the front, so for him it would be better to stay on the wheel anyway, and let the other guys work, and then in the end everything came together so it was good that he could save some energy there.

"In the end it wasn’t too bad, I would say we kind of saved the day in terms of what happened."

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Chris Marshall-Bell

Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.

Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.