Rui Costa became the first Portuguese rider to win the World Road Championships in a traitorous day in Florence. Costa rode his ride to perfection, hanging tough with the more pure climbers on the final lap and then attacking at the perfect time to claim glory. Costa had two Spaniards fighting against him in the final kilometres, but in one of them — Alejandro Valverde — he had his trade-team mate and as such played them off against one another perfectly with his attack that also took advantage of an exhausted Vincenzo Nibali. Costa outsprinted an impressive Rodriguez with Valverde settling for his fifth World Championship medal … none of which are Gold. And all this without a single British rider in sight.
It was a shocking day for the British riders. A day in which they lost the race the moment they climbed out of their warm beds in some plush hotel in Florence, drew back the curtains and seen the falling rain. They didn’t fancy it and for all intents and purposes, would have been as well climbing back into their beds and staying there such was their showing in the event.
The event was the Men’s World Road Race Championship this past Sunday. A race staged on a hilly circuit that really should have suited the likes of Chris Froome or even Sir Bradley Wiggins, but which seen both of them last about half the distance before packing. Wiggins went AWOL entirely — put off by the falling rain and the need to go downhill one can only assume — whereas Froome either crashed himself or got held up in a crash and had little in the way of team-mates to help him back to the bunch.
That of course isn’t really a good enough excuse for the Tour de France champion. You only had to look to someone like Giro Champion, Vincenzo Nibali — riding in his home country and desperate to perform — to see how it was very possible to crash in the pouring rain yet still fight through it to work back to the bunch and come close to winning the Rainbow Jersey.
All this is, of course, easy to say from the warm comfort of the arm chair. I’m not a big fan of the rain myself when I’m out on my bike, but then again, I’m not a professional and nor do I harbour realistic ambitions of winning the World Championship. Froome likely seen the bad weather and pining for a warm mid-July afternoon in France thought that he’d put this Worlds thing off until the next year. Wiggins on the other hand must have looked at his silver medal from the individual-time-trial a few days before and thought that enough for one year at the Worlds.
It was a shame, but let’s not take away from the race itself. Brits or no Brits it was still a spectacular race, or at least, it was once they reeled in the early break and got onto the final lap when at last they decided to take the race to one another.
When Nibali did indeed crash in the later stages of the race it looked like the Italian dream was over. One minute they had eight team-members at the head of the peloton — long after the entire British and Irish entrant had taken their warm showers — and looked to be ready to control the race. They could take turns attacking, force their rival nations to chase and as a result wear them down and take the victory.
Nibali was their biggest hope and so when he crashed it looked over. But all it took was for anyone who watched this seasons Giro d’Italia to train their thoughts back to those cold, wet, snowy stages in May and remember the kind of rider we seen in Nibali. He got up, brushed himself off and made his way back to the bunch. He got a little help from team-cars, sure, but who could begrudge him that after such a fall. Before long he was back in the main field but how much had he expended of himself getting there and soon the race was to head onto the final lap.
It was obvious why a lot of contenders had used the World Tour race in Montreal as preparation for this World Championship. The courses were quite similar with a couple of short yet testing climbs. Over one lap the climbs in Montreal wouldn’t have looked like much, but 18 times around and that soon changed. This course in Florence had a slightly longer climb than the main one in Montreal and its second climb was a wall heading into the Sky at a gradient normally reserved for rock climbers. Or so it seemed. And worse for the competitors, the distance was longer than Montreal. Indeed, the race went over the seven hour mark before Rui Costa could finally lay claim to victory.
And Costa had indeed rode in Quebec City and Montreal in the lead up finishing fifth in Quebec and sixth two days later in Montreal.
The winner that day in Montreal was Sagan and he was in the mix right up until the final lap when the sudden acceleration on the climbs by Rodriguez was enough to catch him out. The Slovak is a brilliant all rounder but this course proved just a little too hilly for him and while he continued to pursue the handful in front down to the finish he had to settle for sixth.