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MILAN (VN) — World champion Rui Costa met with his new Lampre-Merida team last week to put pieces in place for the 2014 Tour de France. Their common goal involves the Portuguese world champion standing on the podium in Paris at the end of July and the team’s new manager is already at work building the roster he thinks will get Costa there.
“It’s possible,” new team manager Brent Copeland told VeloNews. “If you look at the course the Tour organizer put together next year … he’s not a cobbled rider but out of the GC riders he goes better than others do. Then if you look at what he did in the Tour de Suisse and at the Tour de France this year … If you build a team around him, he’s capable of doing it.”
Costa has won the overall twice in Switzerland, this year ahead of Bauke Mollema (Belkin) and Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff). He placed 18th last year in the Tour. This year, he won two stages and finished 27th overall while helping Nairo Quintana to second. Afterwards, he signed with Lampre and of course, won the world road title in Florence, Italy.
Costa moved from Movistar to Lampre with a total focus on his top-three Tour goal. His Spanish former team already has Quintana, who is aiming for his own win in France next year. Lampre’s management was keen because Costa raises awareness both at home in Portugal, where Lampre does a lot of business, and at an international level. And that was before the rainbow jersey hung from his shoulders — a boost that will draw even more eyes.
“He wasn’t given as much space as he needed at team Movistar because of the riders that they had there. We haven’t seen his true potential and there’s definitely a margin of improvement,” Copeland said. “He’s a true professional. He knows what he wants, easy to please, but at the same time he’s adamant on where he wants to go and what he wants. He has his goals written down and is already working toward them.”
Lampre was mostly anonymous in the Tour this year, which is why Copeland and general manager Giuseppe Saronni met with the team last week to get the house in order. Copeland asked that the team have its schedules in order a month earlier than normal so that everyone, good health permitting, will know where he is racing.
Costa wants to race the same program for 2014 that he had this year. Copeland said that will be the case for the most part, but that more RCS Sport races will be mixed in to please the Italian fans and organizers. Costa could race the Dubai Tour in February and target the newly re-designed Milano-Sanremo. Afterward, Costa will aim for an Ardennes classics win and Tour’s podium.
Copeland, when pressed, said Lampre is capable of fielding a team to support Costa’s Tour ambitions.
“We are meeting to work out what men will race, but we have capable men. Przemyslaw Niemec, who finished sixth at the Giro this year, José Serpa, who didn’t show his true colors this year because of illness and injury, but at the Tour this year he rode better and better … he was in the front group. He can help. Nelson Oliveira, who’s coming with Costa, is there to help. Rafael Valls, the Spanish rider,” Copeland said.
“For the cobbled stages we have good riders to protect him, for the mountains stages he can rely on the team we give him and then he can work off the other riders in the race. The responsibility doesn’t have to be on us completely.”
When asked last month at the Tour of Beijing, Costa played down his Tour ambitions, telling Velonews, “I’ll go to see how high I can work my way up on the GC but not for winning.”
Just how high Costa can go will play out on the French roads in July, but what is clear is that the world champion and Lampre have a new focus.