After a year in the rainbow stripes, Rui Costa donned Lampre fuschia in today’s Il Lombardia, having handed over his World Championship title to rising star Michal Kwiatkowski in Ponferrada last weekend. The Tour of Lombardy, taking place on Costa’s 28th birthday, proved an excellent opportunity for him to land a nice result: he sprinted to 3rd in a select group behind the day’s winner, Daniel Martin, yet another good performance for Costa in a season that has been full of them. The Portuguese star may not have taken a lot of outright wins in 2014, but he has been a major protagonist in several big races all year. His two victories came in the Tour de Suisse, where he won a stage and the overall, and he also notched 2nd places in Paris-Nice and in the GP Montréal, his final WorldTour race in the rainbow jersey. He’d hoped for a better result in the Tour de France (he abandoned midway through, suffering from pneumonia) but even in that race, he was riding well prior to his exit.
Reflecting on his season from Italy today, he told VeloHuman that he was pleased with his time as the World Champ: “I think I did a very good year with the rainbow. Only two victories but many podiums and points so I am happy with my results. I hope next year will be like this one.”
Costa made the Worlds defense a major priority this season, but repeating his result was a tall order: the parcours in Ponferrada was significantly less climber-friendly than the circuit in Florence that saw him ride into the rainbow stripes in 2013.
“In this Worlds I was not so good as I wished to be, but I felt okay. This profile was not so good for me as last year. In 2013 it was more difficult and I prefer hard profiles,” Costa said.
While his 23rd place in Ponferrada was disappointing, Costa, having come to terms with the fact that defending his title was always going to be extremely difficult, seems to be in good spirits even with his year in the rainbow jersey behind him. Plus, handing over that jersey comes with a few positives. For one, he is no longer the focus of quite as much attention, allowing him to concentrate more completely on racing.
“The rainbow jersey represents a high responsibility and intense scrutiny,” he said. “I think there will be less pressure on me this year. . . . I hope so.”
Without having to worry about that intense scrutiny, Costa kicked off his time in Lampre-Merida colors in style, nabbing his first ever Monument Classic podium in Il Lombardia. It’s certainly a promising start to his career as a now-former World Champ. Next, he’ll make the long flight to China to take on the year’s final WorldTour race, the Tour of Beijing, where he’s hoping for a good result; he told VeloHuman that he’s currently feeling “okay” in terms of form, which his performance in Italy would seem to confirm.
After a year full of encouraging results, Costa has high hopes for next season. “I will try to do a Top 10 in the Tour for next year. My calendar for 2015 will be similar to this year. I think that is best for me,” he said.
With plenty of nice results that he can build on, Costa has reason to feel confident for both his next race, in Beijing, and his next season. With his excellent Tour de Suisse and a collection of high finishes elsewhere, he performed at a high level even under the World Champion’s spotlight, and with a podium placing in his first post-Worlds race, Costa looks primed for continued success in the near future.