Ineos rider Geraint Thomas took back the leader’s jersey in the Giro d’Italia even though he lost out on Tuesday’s stage 16 win, crossing the line just after UAE Team Emirates’ Joao Almeida at the top of Monte Bondone.
The two riders were part of a group of six which included another overall race favourite Primoz Roglic, that hunted down the breakaway on the 203km mountainous stage before snapping off with five kilometres to go.
When Almeida took off, only Thomas, who turns 37 on Thursday, was able to stay with him, to the north of Lake Garda.
Welshman Thomas led as they went through the one-kilometre mark but the 24-year-old Portuguese Almeida kicked harder in the sprint to take the stage win.
It marks Almeida’s first victory in a major Tour but denied Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France winner, his first stage win in the Giro.
“I’m so happy, it’s a dream come true. After four years I was always so close and yet so far at the same time,” said Almeida who has previously been runner-up on four stages in the Giro.
“Finally I’ve got it. I don’t have the words to describe it. My team was amazing and they did a great job as always.
“I knew I was feeling good and I took the risk to go for it. If you don’t try, you don’t know. I tried and I achieved it – so I’m very happy for the team.
“It’s very special for me. I will always try to go for more and fight to the end to give everything I have.”
No ‘cat and mouse’
Groupama-FDJ’s Bruno Armirail, a surprise leader for two stages, battled hard to retain the pink jersey but cracked with 10 kilometres remaining and conceded more than four minutes.
Thomas, who has already worn the pink jersey for five stages before Armirail’s intervention on Saturday, now holds an 18-second lead over Almeida in the overall standings with Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic, who came in third on the stage, another nine seconds back.
“It would have been nice to win the stage but I had to keep riding, I didn’t want to be caught playing cat and mouse with Joao, with Roglic behind,” said Thomas.
“We worked well together and then I led it out. Unfortunately he had the jump on me and won the sprint,” added the Welshman who also suffered the setback of losing another teammate with the retirement of Pavel Sivakov.
“It’s nice to be back in pink and gain some time but it’s obviously not great to lose a teammate.”
Thomas also praised Almeida’s UAE team who showed they had the capacity to control the race.
“He was always one of the biggest rivals coming in here and he’s shown how strong he is – and his team as well. It’s no surprise,” said Thomas.
Wednesday’s stage 17 will give the climbers a chance to get their legs back — it is the flattest of this year’s Giro, 197km ride that descends gradually from Pergine Valsugana in the Alps to Caorle on the Adriatic Sea.
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