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In a time not too long ago when Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt were racing, maybe one rider under 25 years old would crack the top-10 overall in each grand tour. At this year’s Giro d’Italia, half the top-10 in Milan were also in contention for the best young rider classification, including today’s guest on Bobby & Jens, João Almeida of Deceuninck-Quick-Step, who finished sixth overall.
At just 22 years old, João is one of a cohort of riders in their early twenties, including Tour de France victors Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar and Belgian phenom Remco Evenepoel, who are not just competing with the best, but winning and stamping their authority on the sport.
João gained wide recognition last fall after posting a dominant Giro d’Italia debut, finishing fourth overall and spending two weeks in the leader’s jersey. But with all the factors stemming from Covid-19 that made the 2020 edition unlike any other, there were inevitably questions from fans, press, and even João himself over whether it was a one-off or if he actually has what it takes to be a grand tour contender. The Portuguese rider says he had a mentality of “Let’s find out really if I’m actually a grand tour rider,” heading into the 2021 edition.
Where many riders would develop an ego after earning a grand tour top-5 on their palmarès before age 23, that answer is completely indicative of how humble João is. It might be part of the reason he fits in with the “Wolfpack” culture of Deceuninck-Quick-Step, where riders have a mentality of working for one another, and riders are “all the same,” even if you have the rainbow stripes on your jersey. João seems to possess that quintessential Wolfpack spirit, saying that “I will never put my personal goals in front of [the team’s]. If [a teammate] wins, it’s a feeling that I win as well.” It’s a mentality that Bobby and Jens say they found at Team CSC, but that is rare in cycling.
But for all of Deceuninck’s success, there was much questioning at this year’s Giro over whether the “Wolfpack” dynamic had disappeared from the team after it started with two leaders, João and Remco Evenepoel, but backed the Belgian star early on, who would later falter on stage 11 and eventually abandon the race, while João improved and stayed strong through the third week. João fills us in on the team’s tactics and how they evolved as the race progressed.
João also shares his thoughts on why there are so many riders his age who are already so well developed and where he goes from here with his tactics and training when the riders to beat are his same age. But the 22-year-old feels no stress to win. “I feel like I have so many years in front of me,” he says.