João Almeida has abandoned the Giro d'Italia after testing positive for Covid. The UAE Team Emirates rider was sitting fourth on general classification after stage 17, and was hoping to battle for a podium position in the final four days of the race.
The news was confirmed by UAE Team Emirates late on Thursday morning, ahead of stage 18. He has mild Covid symptoms which developed on Wednesday night, thus making testing necessary. All other riders and team members have tested negative.
Michele De Grandi, UAE Team Emirates' doctor at the Giro d’Italia, said in a statement: "Almeida woke up last night from persistent pain in his throat and the test gave a positive result. We observe strict rules of prevention and, in addition to sanitising the environments which the team uses each day (cars, buses, hotel rooms, etc.), we keep the athletes themselves in single rooms in order to limit very close contacts.
"However, despite these precautions they clearly do not provide 100% shelter as we have seen."
Mauro Gianetti, the team's principal said that while it was upsetting, the team had to accept the news and move forward.
"We are obviously deeply upset because João and the supporting team were doing an excellent race," he said.
"Our goals were the podium of the Giro and the white jersey as best young rider and we were fighting to win them both. It is bad news, but this is the reality we have been living every day for two years. We have to accept it and look forward. Now the most important thing is that João recovers as soon as possible."
Almeida was leading the young rider (maglia bianca) classification until his retirement from the Giro, meaning it will now be lead by Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo), the previous pink jersey wearer. He finished 4th at the 2020 Giro, then 6th last year, and was hoping to go better in this edition.
The Portuguese rider lost time on his GC rivals on Wednesday, conceding over a minute to Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious). However, he remained under 50 seconds behind Landa in third place, making the podium a very real possibility. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) has now moved up to fourth on GC.
Almeida is considered a superior time-triallist to the three riders who were above him in the race, so was expected to claw back time on Sunday's race against the clock in Verona, an event that will now not happen.
He has been a tenacious presence in the race, refusing to give up and ship lots of time to his rivals on the previous two stages, but had all but given up his tilt at overall victory after Wednesday's stage.
“I mean everything is possible, but I would say it’s almost impossible to take pink,” Almeida said post-stage. “But I think the podium is still possible. I still believe.”
Sadly for him, that podium dream is now impossible, for 2022 at least.
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