The Giro d’Italia finally delivered some action in the GC group on Stage 16 with a powerful initial attack from Joao Almeida and counter from Geraint Thomas putting huge pressure on Primož Roglič. Almeida took the stage on the same time as Thomas who did perhaps his best climbing performance whilst the Slovenian was rescued by Sepp Kuss to lose ‘only’ 25 seconds.
Stage 16 was the first of three big mountain road stages in the final week of this Giro d’Italia. Everything was decided on the mighty Monte Bondone (21.7 km, 6.6%), a very long and irregular climb with shallower sections in the middle and the end. Jumbo-Visma had been riding defensively since Evenepoel abandoned on the first rest day and there were doubts about how subsequent crashes might have affected Roglič.
The wind up Monte Bondone was neutral with some headwind (red sections) section in the steep part and tailwind (blue sections) at the end where the road was 4-5% gradient. It was not an easy race before the final climb, with the peloton accumulating big fatigue. The race leader Bruno Armirail did 4885 kilojoules for 5 hours before Bondone which is 13.95 kj/kg/h at 70 kg – one of the highest total kilojoule expenditures before a final climb in recent years.
After Hessman and Rohan Dennis emptied their tanks on the first third of the climb, UAE-Emirates were happy to take over and pace with Davide Formolo on the shallower middle part of the climb. It was the first big sign that Almeida would finally attack on a mountain stage. The gap to the strong breakaway was melting fast and riders were struggling in the peloton like Armirail and Carthy.
After Formolo was done, Jay Vine did a short hard pull, reducing the group to under 10 riders but leaving Almeida alone with over 8 km remaining. Almeida continued to hold a high tempo like a time-trialist before Zana was collected from the breakaway who then paced for some time for his teammate Dunbar. With 5.9km to go the Portuguese star attacked in a headwind section, after Kuss did not begin to set a tempo, and was riding just three seconds ahead of the American who was pulling Roglič, Thomas and Dunbar. It was unusual to see Almeida racing in this fashion as he has typically ridden defensively or at his own tempo 15 seconds behind a group.
A few minutes later Geraint Thomas accelerated and bridged quickly to Almeida in a tailwind section, while Roglič was badly hurting and struggling to hold Sepp Kuss’ wheel. Both Almeida and Thomas were incentivised to work together as the huge favourite Roglič was left behind and this was the perfect time to gain time on the Slovenian.
Almeida won the sprint against Thomas and won his biggest stage yet. Roglič with Dunbar lost only 25 seconds, which is not as much as it could have been after being properly dropped with 4.6 km remaining. Today was a career performance from the Irishman who was snubbed multiple times by INEOS and was not selected for the 2022 Giro at the last moment, giving a chance to youngster Ben Tullett. Other GC riders Caruso, Rubio, De Plus, Arensman, Kamna and Carthy lost over a minute on this hard day.
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It was a hard stage and the climb did not suit high watts as it was irregular with shallow sections, which negatively impacted the eventual ᵉW/Kg. Despite all of that, Joao Almeida did a huge performance on Monte Bondone pushing 5.94 ᵉW/Kg for 54:54min. An extremely high level after such a hard stage and conditions and the shallower middle phase.
It is a career-best ᵉW/Kg performance for Thomas. A third week in a rainy Giro d'Italia and close to 5000 kilojoules spent before the final climb makes this performance even more impressive and there is no doubt he is in his career-best shape at age 36 (will turn 37 on 25th May). There are still three big GC days left this week and there might be even more surprises this Giro.