World Championships: Rui Costa plays it cool in the rain to take the Elite Men’s title
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

World Championships: Rui Costa plays it cool in the rain to take the Elite Men’s title

by Ben Atkins at 11:38 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, World Championships
Portuguese rider the smartest of a four-rider fight that forms on the final climb

Rui CostaRui Costa became the first ever rider from Portugal to win the Elite Men’s World Road Championship as the smartest of a final group of four on the hilly course around Florence, Italy. Despite the presence of two riders from Spain, and one from host nation Italy, Costa managed to keep his cool and left it until the final kilometre to play his hand.

Fighting his way across to a solo attack from Spain’s Joaquim Rodríguez, Costa managed to catch up with 500 metres left then, after the two riders looked at one another for a moment, managed to win a close sprint.

Behind the sprint for the victory, Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who had been playing the loyal teammate to Rodríguez up ahead, easily managed to beat Italian favourite Vincenzo Nibali - who had suffered a crash earlier in the race and been forced to chase back on alone - to the bronze medal 16 seconds later.

“Today was a dream come true,” said Costa. “I still can’t realise what happened, but I’ll have the time to do so. Honestly I didn’t think I could win, but when in the end there were only four of us left, I knew I had a chance.

“I knew Rodriguez was the slowest sprinter, and I expected him to attack before the end,” Costa continued. “I waited for the right moment to make my move, and then I attacked him and caught him. When I reached him, he told me to go first, but I was careful not to do so. I wanted to catch my breath before the final sprint. I’m proud of what I did, for myself and for my country.”

Five brave souls break away in the rain and Great Britain keeps them in check

The fine weather that the World Championships had enjoyed until this point had broken, and the 208-strong peloton rolled out of Lucca under heavy rain. NetApp-Endura teammates Bartosz Huzarski of Poland and Jan Barta of the Czech Republic, Matthias Brändle of Austria, Yonder Godoy of Venezuela, and Rafaâ Chtioui of Tunisia escaped in the early kilometres and were allowed to get away.

Great Britain was setting the early pace at the head of the peloton, in the form of 2011 champion Mark Cavendish and Luke Rowe - with the entire eight-man team lined up behind them - but allowing the quintet to open their lead.

There was little drama in the peloton, over the top of the climb to San Baronto, other than a number of crashes as the rain turned the brand-new tarmac slick. Spain’s Alberto Contador was among the high-profile casualties as the peloton rode through the historic centre of Florence, but the former tour de France champion was able to rejoin the peloton without too much trouble.

The break’s lead had gone up to almost nine minutes at its maximum, but was down to 7’44” as Cavendish led the peloton over the finish line to start the first of the ten laps.

Italy took over control as the first circuit continued and steadily closed down the breakaway’s lead, slashing it to 5’56” by the end of lap one. This was down to 4’10” on lap two, and 2’22” on lap three, as the Italian pace and a series of crashes slimmed the peloton to just 60 riders as the fourth lap began.

A number of big names, including former Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez of Spain, Polish champion Michal Kwiatkowski, Americans Tejay van Garderen, Taylor Phinney and Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner, Irishmen Matt Brammeier and Nicolas Roche, Great Britain’s time trial silver medallist Bradley Wiggins and Dane Matti Breschel, had dropped out by this time. Most of the favourites for the title were still present, however.

In the first half of lap four Chtioui lost contact with the leading group, as Italy continued to whittle down the peloton behind them. On the following lap, Brändle and Godoy were also dropped, leaving just the two NetApp-Endura teammates - Barta and Huzarski - up the road. The gap to the peloton was just two minutes by this point, but the Italian team eased up a little and allowed it to grow again.

The peloton wakes up and the big teams begin to attack

Lap six saw the first attacks from the peloton as Austria’s Georg Priedler jumped away on Via Salviati, and was followed by Wilco Kelderman of the Netherlands. The two of them were just 2’01” behind the two leaders across the line at the end of the lap, with the peloton another 40 seconds behind them.

The peloton also picked up the pace, however, and, as the two counterattackers closed in on the two leaders, the gap to the bunch also closed. On the climb to Fiesole, Cyril Gautier of France attacked, and crossed the top just ten seconds behind the chasers, who were less than a minute behind the leaders.

The peloton was 1’15” back, as Italy continued to set the pace behind, but Italian Giovanni Visconti then attacked in pursuit of Gautier and soon made contact with the Frenchman.

Priedler and Kelderman were just 25 seconds behind the leaders at the top of Via Salviati, with Visconti and Gautier at 42 seconds. The peloton was now at at 1’27” as the Italians sat back to leave the rest to chase. These gaps were down to just 17 seconds and 29 seconds at the end of the lap, with the peloton drifting backwards at 1’44”.

Onto the Fiesola climb the four chasers came together, as Huzarski left Barta behind. Visconti then attacked from the group, passed the struggling Barta, and crossed the top just 20 seconds behind Huzarski. The rest of the chasers were gradually picked up by the peloton, which was still at 1’48” over the top.

Visconti gradually closed in on Huzarski, and was within 100 metres of the Polish rider on Via Salviati. The gap was still a few seconds over the top, however, while the peloton was at 1’15” with Belgium leading the way.

Nibali survives a scare but burns a lot of matches

The rain had finally stopped, having been falling since the start, and the sun began to come out. The roads were still very wet, however, with the new tarmac and plentiful white lines still very slick and treacherous.

The two leaders came together on the descent that followed, as disaster struck for Visconti’s Italian team as a crash brought down a number of riders, including Luca Paolini and team leader Vincenzo Nibali. Nibali eventually remounted, but the peloton was a long way ahead by that time.

Across the line with two laps to go, the gap was just 1’07” to the Belgian-led chase. Nibali was chasing hard through the cars, and steadily closing in on the back of the peloton. Colombia’s Darwin Atapuma then hit the front on the climb to Fiesole, which quickly closed the gap to Visconti and Huzarski and, with still a kilometre to climb, the break was caught.

Nibali was comfortably close to the front of the 39-strong peloton by now, although he had used a lot of energy to get there.

Belgium now had the biggest presence on the front of the peloton, with Germany, Switzerland and Spain moving up on the approach to Via Salviati. The climb was taken with the group together, however, as the big names awaited the final lap.

With the top in sight, however, Romain Bardet of France jumped away and was three seconds clear as he began the descent. Italy’s Michele Scarponi pounced on the Frenchman, but the two of them were quickly closed down by the bunch behind them.

Germany’s Marcus Burghardt then began to string out the peloton as it entered the final 20km and approached the final lap.

A big group hits the final lap as everybody fights up to Fiesole

Jan Polanc of Slovenia tried to attack under the flamme rouge, but was just a few metres clear as he crossed the line with just 16.5km to go. There were still 45 riders left in the front group as it headed towards Fiesole for the last time.

Spain’s Jonathan Castroviejo led towards the climb, with the Italians and Kazakhs swarming behind him. Visconti then took over again, with Scarponi on his wheel, as the group took on the gentler lower slopes. Denmark’s Chris Anker Sørensen then pushed his way up to the front, with teammate Jakob Fuglsang on his wheel, and lifted the pace even higher.

Ominously, sitting in fifth wheel up the climb though, was Slovakia’s Peter Sagan.

Perhaps realising this Scarponi accelerated from fifth wheel and forced the rest to follow him. Spain’s Joaquim Rodríguez was the first to respond, with Carlos Betancur of Colombia on his wheel. Nibali quickly made it across to the group, along with Portugal’s Rui Costa, Colombia’s Rigoberto Urán, Norway’s Lars Petter Nordhaug and Rodríguez’ teammate Alejandro Valverde

Nibali attacked close to the top, and was joined by Rodríguez. The two of them were five seconds ahead of the rest of the group as they crested the top, with the rest of the favourites splintered in the road behind them.

On the fast descent, Urán’s front wheel slid off the road as he, Valverde and Costa were closing in on the two leaders and the Colombian crashed spectacularly onto the grassy bank. The Olympic silver medallist was unhurt, but his race was now over.

Spain plays the numbers game but Portugal has the coolest head

Rodríguez had slipped away up ahead, as Valverde and Costa made it up to Nibali, and was a few seconds clear on the approach to Via Saliati. Valverde was sat behind Nibali, with his compatriot up the road, with Costa calmly behind the two of them.

Nibali was forced to lead the chase all the way up the short, steep climb, but was still four seconds behind over the top. The Italian continued all the way down the descent, and managed to catch the Spanish rider with just under four kilometres to go, and immediately hit the front.

After sitting in for a moment, Rodríguez attacked again, with Nibali forced to chase again, while Costa was still calmly watching the events from the back of the four-man line.

Rodríguez was still dangling off the front of the group as they entered the final two kilometres as Nibali sat up and looked to the others. Costa then counterattacked and began to fight his way across the gap to the Spanish rider.

Under the flamme rouge the Spanish rider was still a few metres clear, but the Portuguese rider was gradually closing. Catching him with just 500 metres left the two riders began to freewheel as they looked to one another.

Finally, with 150 metres to go Costa began to sprint, but Rodríguez refused to give up. As the line approached the Spanish rider pulled alongside Costa, but the Portuguese rider was the fresher and managed to throw his bike over the line just ahead.

Valverde easily managed to outsprint an exhausted Nibali 16 seconds later, to complete the all-Iberian podium.

1. Rui Costa (Portugal)
2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spain)
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) @ 16s
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)
5. Andriy Grivko (Ukraine)
6. Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
7. Simon Clarke (Australia)
8. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kazakhstan)
9. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
10. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)


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