“We only have one card to play, that’s me”

After fourth place in 2020, and sixth in 2021, in both cases at Deceuninck-QuickStep, the Portuguese traveled to the United Arab Emirates and today, in a press conference, did not get tired of s ‘assume sole leader.

Portugal’s João Almeida has repeatedly said today that he is the leader of the United Arab Emirates in the cycling Vuelta a Italia, which begins on Friday and in which he aims to reach the podium in the general final.

After fourth place in 2020, and sixth in 2021, in both cases at Deceuninck-QuickStep, the Portuguese traveled to the United Arab Emirates and today, in a press conference, he did not get tired of to assume as sole leader, a year after having shared this leadership with the Belgian Remco Evenepoel, for whom he worked and whom he ended up leaving.

“I don’t really want to compare [uma equipa com a outra]. Now I trust my teammates, we are all focused on the same goal. The leader is me, and here there are teams with more than one leader. We only have one card to play, and that’s me.”

The idea of ​​being protected by the team, of each working with “one goal”, of having “seven colleagues to work for the same”, was repeated throughout the conversation with the journalists.

After surprising the plateau in 2020, the first year between the WorldTour, and the controversial sharing of responsibilities with Remco Evenepoel, the following year, the 23-year-old cyclist asserts himself, inside, for the team, and outside too.

At his side he will have the Italians Diego Ulissi, Davide Formolo and Alessandro Covi, in addition to two Portuguese, Rui Costa and Rui Oliveira, in a complete team with another “battle front” of the team, the “sprints”. , with the Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria accompanied by the Argentine “lancer” Max Richeze.

Having compatriots in the team, with the trio making up the Portuguese contingent in the competition, allows “to make some jokes and speak the mother tongue”, but he stressed that in the team “there is a good atmosphere”. : “We are all friends and we are very happy.”

On a personal level, “responsibility” is combined with “some pressure, not too much”, “better overall” physical condition, after training changes, with the transfer, seeking to “be more stronger than before and be better in the mountains”.

In addition to the main ascents, from Etna, in the fourth stage, to the Blockhaus, in the ninth, among others, especially “at the end of the second week and in the third week”, also “the cold and the rain will bring additional difficulties”.

“This year, there are not many time trial kilometers. (…) We have a new bike, which has good numbers and is better than the old one. It’s already a benefit, and I’m really looking forward to it.” to ride it for the first time and test it on the road in competition”, added the Portuguese cyclist.

In addition, this year João Almeida sees the route as “a little more difficult than in the past, with stages with a lot of accumulations and many climbs”, in a 105th edition in which, as always, “every day counts , every second counts, and you have to be mentally strong”, an idea he has been repeating for years.

“If you don’t fall, if you don’t get sick, stay healthy and finish first, it’s a good Giro. Of course, I would like to win a stage one day, but it’s very difficult. I want to be in the first places, that’s the goal”, put into perspective.

As for the opponents, the cyclist from Caldas da Rainha is clear.

“Richard Carapaz is the number one favourite,” said the Portuguese, highlighting the Ecuadorian’s good form and mental toughness that will lead INEOS in search of another Giro triumph after 2019.

Another name he was asked for was that of Colombian Miguel Ángel López (Astana), whom he considered “one of the best climbers in the peloton” and in good shape, hoping for a “good battle among all, because he can only win one”, in addition to praising the INEOS and Jumbo-Visma blocks, both with “more than one card to play”.

For the rest, the partnership with the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, his teammate and winner of the last two editions of the Tour de France, is not always accompanied by conversations on cycling or “stuff” on the Grand Tours.

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. He told me to go day by day and have confidence in the work. In the end, it has everything to do with the legs we have,” he said. it simplified.

The 2022 Vuelta d’Italia, the 105th edition of the race, starts in Budapest on Friday and ends in Verona on May 29, 21 stages later.

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