MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Rui Costa is going back to his roots.
For a few seasons after his rainbow jersey ride, the 2013 world champion tried to develop into a grand tour contender. He has always been a strong climber with a decent time trial, but the quest for three-week success never worked out.
Over his last few grand tour appearances, he has gradually begun inching away from his GC goals. Now, he is done banging his head against the wall as a GC contender.
“For two to three years, I dedicated myself solely to arriving strong to the Tour. That took away some of the spark I’d had before. I was working on improving on the longer climbs, the mountains, and I missed some opportunities,” the UAE Team Emirates rider told VeloNews this week at the Tour of Oman.
“From now on, I think I’m going to forget a little bit about the grand tours and dedicate myself to being more of the Rui Costa of 2012, 2013, 2014, and therefore get back to the way things were.”
Costa’s well-rounded skillset delivered him to three straight Tour de Suisse overall wins between 2012 and 2014, a pair of Tour de France stage victories, and countless other strong results.
Now, he’s got his eye on rediscovering the success of his early career in the types of races that suit him.
“This year, I’m working on different things. I’m focusing on one-day races and one-week races. I’ve changed my training to give me more possibilities, and more strength, so I think right now, that’s going to help me,” he said.
“I’ll definitely still do the three-week races but always with the aim of helping our GC leader and then thinking about going for a few stages.”
Being open to opportunities is at the heart of Costa’s altered approach. He knows he missed out on chances to add wins to his palmares by narrowing his focus too much these past few years. The new (old) Rui Costa has no use for treating races as “tune-ups.”
“Every race I do is an objective. If I wanted to train, I’d go home,” he said.
Before he can start hunting wins, Costa will first need to recover from illnesses going back almost a year now.
Costa enjoyed a great Middle East campaign last year, riding to second in Oman and then nabbing a WorldTour overall win at the Abu Dhabi Tour, but he fell sick just after the win. Not long after recovering, he got sick again. It’s been more of the same this winter, though Costa has not allowed the health issues to dampen his morale.
“In Australia [at the Tour Down Under], I started out in good shape but then, one day before the race started, I got sick with the flu. So Australia didn’t go so well,” Costa said. “Then I got home and got sick again for a week. But that’s the way it is. I’ve worked hard this winter, and now I am really motivated to recover the good sensations.”
Costa is already looking fit in Oman. He rode to second place on Thursday’s lumpy third stage and fifth at the end of another tough outing Friday. Judging by his performances, Costa appears to be nearing his best, which bodes well for defending his title next week in Abu Dhabi. From there, a number of big objectives are around the corner, such as Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al País Vasco, and then the Ardennes classics.
Costa’s altered focus won’t be the only thing boosting UAE’s chances in those races this year. The team brought several new stars into the fold over the off-season. A team that mostly relied on Costa and Diego Ulissi for results in past seasons now has Fabio Aru and Daniel Martin for grand tour GC, and Alexander Kristoff for sprints.
Martin, in particular, employs much the same skillset to Costa’s. The former world champ is quick to note, however, that added firepower can only help.
“I think in the end, it makes it easier. If you’re alone, you can’t let the race go. If there’s a moment where there are several attacks, it’s just you,” he said.
Plus, the pressure to rack up WorldTour points should dissipate as Costa’s new teammates get results.
“We never have stress on this team, but I think the arrival of Daniel, Kristoff, Fabio, will make the team even more relaxed,” Costa said. “Points are so important to teams these days. Before, it was me and Diego that were getting most of the points. Now, we have five guys. In the end, five makes things a bit better.”
The next few months will give Costa a chance to get comfortable with his new teammates. They’ll turn to rivals, of course, for a few days this fall when Costa dons a Portuguese national team jersey at worlds in Austria.
The last time the road world championships were designed for the climbers, it was Costa who won ahead of bigger favorites Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodríguez.
Costa hopes to be in the mix again this year, though he’s conscious of the challenges that await.
“It’s an even harder parcours than the Florence worlds. But I think there will be chances for 15 or so riders that can win, so it’s important to get there in good shape and then hope that it’s my day,” he said. “You can prepare really well and if it’s not your day, something always happens. Punctures, crashes, whatever. You need it all to go well.”
Rather than stress too much over any single goal, the Rui Costa of 2018 will be keeping his eyes open for opportunities as they present themselves all season. Whether that’s months from now in Innsbruck, next week in Abu Dhabi, or somewhere along the way, Costa isn’t planning on letting any chances pass him by this year.