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Rui Costa: ‘I don’t know how far I can go’

Rui Costa says there's no limit to his potential, saying he's "a complete rider." He'll ride in Paris-Nice starting Sunday

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LEON, Spain (VN) — Rui Costa (Movistar) is probably best-known to be at the receiving end of a finish-line dust up with a wheel-wielding Carlos Barredo in stage 6 in the 2010 Tour de France.

That put his name in the headlines, but the 28-year-old Portuguese rider has been making news with his own wheels of late.

In 2011, he won a Tour stage in a breakaway with Tejay van Garderen (then HTC-High Road) as well as the GP de Montréal. His 2012 season was equally rich, capped by winning the Tour de Suisse and a handful of top-10s in stage and one-day races.

How far can Costa go? He says he still doesn’t know the answer to that question, but for 2013, he’s backing Alejandro Valverde and Movistar’s push for the Tour podium.

“We are going to the Tour to support Alejandro,” he told VeloNews at last month’s Volta ao Algarve. “The course is perfect for him. I will have my chances, too. The important thing is to work together.”

Costa has emerged as a threat for any terrain. He can win one-day races and has shown a steady hand in stage races. His climbing skills are improving and he has a strong finishing sprint out of small groups.

There’s almost nothing he cannot do. Well, at least when the race is between one day and one week. He’s still not sure about his fate in grand tours.

“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 said. “The grand tours are something else altogether. I want to continue to progress. I still haven’t reached my potential.”

Last year, Costa actually finished ahead of Valverde in the Tour — 18th to Valverde’s 20th — but the team is committed to helping the Spaniard aim for the podium.

“Everyone has faith in Alejandro to go far in the Tour,” Costa said. “Helping him will only be good for me. Last year, he had bad luck. The route is good for a rider like Alejandro.”

Costa’s reputation was tarnished when he and his brother, Mario, tested positive for methylhexanamine before the 2010 Portuguese national time trial championships.

Facing a possible two-year ban, Costa caught a break when the product was reclassified by WADA as a product that could result in a reduced sentence if proven it was ingested accidentally.

In the end, Costa received a reduced, five-month ban, allowing him to return to Movistar in 2011. Costa, who claimed it was from a contaminated nutritional supplement, said he has a “clean conscience” about the case.

Costa said he’s hoping to build on the progress he’s been making over the past two years.

At his season debut on home roads at the Volta ao Algarve in February, he was fifth overall after finishing second in the “queen stage” up the Malhao summit.

“I am motivated coming into the spring. The first big goal is Paris-Nice and then the Ardennes classics,” he said. “Last year was an incredible season for me. I was able to win stage races as well as do well in the classics. The hard work is paying off and I hope to continue the same this year.”

Costa will headline Movistar at Paris-Nice (March 3-10) while Valverde heads to Tirreno-Adriatico (March 6-12).

Costa will race the Vuelta al País Vasco in early April ahead of the Ardennes classics. Then it’s straight into the Tour de Romandie and a defense at the Tour de Suisse before returning to the Tour.

With Valverde the team’s dedicated captain for the Tour, Costa will be looking to capitalize on his opportunities when he gets them. That could start as soon as next week’s Paris-Nice.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.