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Recently crowned world champion Rui Costa is champing at the bit for the start of the 2014 season.
Costa’s already raced in the world champion’s jersey after his stunning victory in Florence to win the rainbow stripes, at the Giro di Lombardia and the Tour of Beijing, but next season will be a huge one.
With his move to Lampre-Merida on a one-year deal for the 2014 season, the 27-year-old Portuguese all-rounder is ready for the next step of his career.
Speaking to the Spanish daily AS, Costa said having a chance to lead was what motivated him to leave Movistar.
“After five years with Movistar, I needed a change to have a team at my disposal,” Costa said. “We all have aspirations, and to do as well as possible in the Tour, as a leader, is mine right now. Little by little I will become accustomed to the new structure. Later let’s see.”
At Movistar, Costa could read the writing on the wall. The Spanish team is backing Spain’s Alejandro Valverde and Tour sensation Nairo Quintana, who rode to second, the climber’s and best young rider’s jerseys, as well as a stage win.
Despite winning two stages himself in the Tour this year, Costa knew that if he ever wanted to develop his grand tour potential, it wasn’t going to happen at Movistar.
Speaking to VeloNews earlier this season, Costa said he believes he can do well in the Tour. A solid time trialist as well as a consistent climber, he’s already won such stage races as the Tour de Suisse (2012, 2013) and the Four Days of Dunkirk (2009).
“I believe I am a complete rider. I have improved in the time trials and the climbs, so I can be a factor for weeklong stage races,” he told VeloNews. “The grand tours are something else altogether. I want to continue to progress. I still haven’t reached my potential.”
In five Tour starts, his best finish was 18th in 2012. He’s never raced the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a España, but he believes he can punch into the top-10 overall at the Tour.
Whether he can develop into a real podium threat remains to be seen.
Lampre is putting its stock in Costa, dumping its GC leader over the past few seasons, Michele Scarponi, who signed a deal to join Astana for 2014.
Costa’s season is already taking shape. After sitting down during team meetings last week with Lampre staff, it was decided he will likely skip racing the UCI WorldTour opener at the Santos Tour Down Under and instead make his season debut at the Mallorca Challenge in early February in Spain.
Paris-Nice and the Ardennes classics will be early season goals, with the Tour de Suisse serving as final prep for the Tour. From there, he’ll reload for the world championships on a hilly course in Spain, with a possible start in the Vuelta a España.
It’s an ambitious season for an ambitious rider on a team looking to rewire its program. Lampre has tapped Australian Brent Copeland as its new general manager to help move the team toward a more international footing.
Damiano Cunego stays, as do Filippo Pozzato and rising talent Diego Ulissi, with Italian sprinter Sacha Modolo coming on board.
With those riders on the squad, Costa will be able to focus on bigger targets, taking the pressure off trying to deliver day-in, day-out results.
The biggest change since winning the world title? Annoying questions from journalists.
Before the past few seasons, when he’s won the Tour de Suisse and some stages at the Tour, the quiet Costa was perhaps best known for trading punches with ex-pro Carlos Barredo at the 2010 Tour de France.
With the rainbow jersey comes not only the added pressure of being a marked man in the peloton, but having to handle the media attention that comes with it.
“The biggest change is having to attend to the media, and that’s something I am not used to,” he told AS. “I really don’t like interviews. The gold medal brings a big change to my life, both in and out of the races.”
Costa better get used to it. As everyone who’s ever worn the rainbow jersey knows, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with those stripes.