Tag Archives: Rui Costa

Eight things to look forward to in 2014 as well as a few predictions

There is so much to look forward to in the upcoming 2014 professional cycling road season, as there is every year and if I asked a dozen people for things that they’re looking out for the most I’d no doubt get a dozen different answers, so take of this what you will. These are eight things that jump out at me as things worth watching for as the Grand Tours make their starts in the UK, as British cycling tries to continue its dominance, and as the World Hour record comes back to prominence. I’ll also lay down a few predictions; though don’t be running to your bookie with them. Predicting cycling results on the day of a race is hard enough never mind months in advance. One thing I can guarantee however is that the season will be full of good action, beautiful scenery, and a few records here or there.

Giro in Belfast; Tour in Yorkshire

It’s a rare treat for any Grand Tour to start in the UK, indeed only the Tour de France has done that before, but for two to do it in the one year is almost as rare as the idea that back-to-back British winners of the Tour de France might have seemed a few years ago. The last time a Grand Tour visited the island of Ireland was in 1998 when that years ill fated Tour de France arrived in Dublin. Remembered for the ‘Festina Affair’ that year the Giro organisors will be hoping for none of the same when their big event arrives on that island with the start in Belfast. It’s a huge occasion for a city like Belfast and it should look fantastic. Likewise with the Tour starting in Yorkshire. Mark Cavendish seen last year’s mass start on Corsica as a big chance to pull on the Yellow jersey by winning that first stage sprint, but it didn’t go to plan. And maybe for the best because what better way to pull on his first Yellow jersey than on home turf?

Back to Back for Froome?

Chris Froome will be the favorite for the 2014 Tour. He won it in style last year and so long as his preparation matches what he did twelve months before and he can avoid any injuries there’s nobody I can see beating him. It could be tougher this time however with Vincenzo Nibali returning to the race and the most likely opponent to cause the Kenyan born, South African educated, British license holding Froome some trouble. There’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion in the Tour, but Froome retaining his title is about as close as it comes to one.

Boonen back

In 2012 Tom Boonen was the King of the classics. He won Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, but injuries derailed his defense of those in 2013 and he watched from the sidelines as Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan took up the dominance of the spring races. Fighting fit again Boonen will be out to recapture his crown and that only serves us well. Seeing him, Cancellara and Sagan, among others, go head to head this spring will make for fantastic viewing. My money is on each of them winning at least one of the spring classics.

The continued rise of Rui Costa

At 27 years of age, Rui Costa is coming into his prime years as a cyclist and there’s enough there to suggest that it could be prime years full of big race wins. Back in 2011 he showed his ability as a big time racer by winning a stage of that year’s Tour de France and in 2012 he took the overall at the Tour of Switzerland. He repeated there last year and added to that result with two stage wins in Le Tour on the difficult stages of 16 and 19 before winning the World Road Race Championships in conditions even worse than those that faced him in one of his two Tour stages. Some think he even has Grand Tour potential in him and after moving to Lampre this winter to become a team-leader in his own right we’ll truly see how far his talents can go. At the very least this will remain a man who should feature highly in the spring classics and again for stages in the Tour de France as he looks to retain that rainbow jersey at the end of the 2014 season.

Classic expectations for Sagan

No doubt about it, Peter Sagan had a superb season in 2013. Victories at the Gent-Wevelgem and the Cycliste de Montréal to go with multiple stage wins at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tour of Alberta, Tour of California, Tour of Oman, Tour de Suisse and Tirreno-Adriatico, not to mention his Green jersey victory at the Tour de France, highlighted that. But to some there was too many second places at the classics and therefore too many missed opportunities. He was second at Milan-San Remo when those around him out foxed him and then he was beaten into second by his new spring-rival, Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders. It’s hard to imagine pressure being on Sagan to do even better than in 2013 and remember he’s still only 23 (24 later this month), but then, that age is a reason why we could well see better from him in 2014 and if he’s to truely prove to the world that he is going to be one of the greats then he might well need a win or two in one of the Monument classics this year.

The breakout of Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski broke through into the big time last season and he’ll be looking to show the world that Sagan isn’t the only young talent capable of big wins and 2014 will be a year for him to prove it. And unlike Sagan, Kwiatkoswki appears to have the ability to climb in the higher mountains and compete at the sharp end of Grand Tours as well as time-trial and sprint. He didn’t have any big victories to his name last year but he was in the mix at a number of races and finished 11th overall at the Tour de France holding the White jersey for best young rider between stages 2-7 and 11-14 before falling short of phenom climbing sensation Nairo Quintana. And it was in the Tour that his talents truly began to shine. He was right near the front on several early race sprint stages, he was 5th and 7th in the respective individual time trials and never far off the pace in the high mountains fading only towards the final days of the Tour. He’ll be one to watch in 2014.

What will Wiggins do?

Sir Bradley Wiggins had the world at his feet as the 2012 season came to an end. He had won the Tour becoming the first British cyclist to do so and then he won a Gold Medal in the individual time-trial at the London Olympics. It was a supreme season and many wondered how he could top it. Well … he couldn’t. An off season rift with Chris Froome over the leadership of the team boiled over into the early season with both of them racing apart. Wiggins went to the Giro d’Italia for his Tour prep, but as we all know in this day and age if you try to win the Giro you probably aren’t going to then win the Tour and Wiggins was out to try and win the Giro. But he couldn’t do that either. A sudden fear of descending struck him followed soon after by an illness and before the racing had even got serious, he was gone. An injury followed and Wiggins was ruled out of even competing in the Tour leaving his season in tatters. He won the Tour of Britain but aside from that and the Worlds, in which he also failed to finish, little has been seen of him. Has he finally succumbed to working for Froome at the 2014 Tour as some have suggested, or is he out for one last throw of the dice? A penultimate stage time-trial at the Tour might allow for it, but chances are Wiggins will help where he can in the Tour before turning his attention back towards the track. I’d love to see him take a run at a spring classic, but who knows. And therein lays one of the great mysteries of the upcoming season: What will Wiggins do?

Cancellara world hour

This one has me the most excited of all. The World Hour is a special record in cycling history, though the way so few have tried to break it of late you would be forgiven for thinking the cyclists themselves didn’t think so. Then again, that is a tribute to its difficulty that so few have felt able to go for it. But that looks set to change this year as big Fabian Cancellara gets set to take a run at the record. Currently held by the relatively unknown, Ondrej Sosenka (49.7 km), if anyone can beat it, it’s probably Fabian. Prior to Sosenka taking it in 2005 it was held by Chris Boardman who had taken it under conventional methods (standard bike as used by Eddy Merckx when he set a record in 1972 (49.431 km) that stood for 28 years) in 2000. Before that Boardman had got into a head-to-head with Graeme Obree on superman like bikes that seen the top names of the era — Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger — all come out to have a crack at it. Cancellara taking on the record might well perk up the interests of another time-trial specialist, Tony Martin and don’t forever rule out someone like Wiggins having a try. And with that the World Hour rivalry might yet be born again.

Predictions

Milan-San Remo (23 March): Peter Sagan
Tour of Flanders (6 April): Tom Boonen
Paris-Roubaix (13 April): Peter Sagan
Liège–Bastogne–Liège (27 April): Rui Costa
Giro d’Italia (9 May – 1 June): Nairo Quintana
Tour de France (5-27 July): Chris Froome
Vuelta a Espana (23 August – 14 September): Alberto Contador
Giro di Lombardia (5 October): Philippe Gilbert
World Road Championships, Ponferrada, Spain (28 September): Peter Sagan

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British washed out while Nibali heroics come up short as Costa becomes World Champ

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.

Rui Costa wins again

Where have we seen a finish like this before? I know, it was three days ago in Gap. Same man, same kind of victory and both brilliantly executed. It’s hard to believe that three days after infiltrating a break and then riding away from them near the end his rivals around him let him do it again, but that’s exactly what Rui Costa did for his second stage win in what turned out to be a tough mountain stage with a very tricky descent into Grand Bornand.

It was especially tricky because of the weather. Late on in the stage but with the final climb to come the rain started falling in a deluge. There was thunder overhead and before long it looked as though they were rehearsing for the night time finish into Paris such was the darkness. The TV camera’s may have made it look darker than it was, but as the clouds descended over the Alps and the rain fell, the cars following the riders had their headlights on and the shine of it was reflecting on the wet roads and the riders freshly shaved legs.

What the conditions did do was open an opportunity for someone confident in their descending to go for the win and it was Costa who seized it. He flew down the wet descent to the point where I was often cringing as he swung into a corner that at any moment the bike was going to go from under him. But it never did. It was a brilliant display of bike handling and by the time he reached dry roads again his lead was secure and he came home 48 seconds ahead of veteran Andreas Klöden who beat home scatterings of riders from the earlier break.

As for the peloton, or what was left of it, the rain also presented an opportunity for someone to make a late throw of the dice on this Tour. I had a feeling Alberto Contador might attack on the final kilometre of the final climb and try ride away on the risky descent, but nobody budged and the pack came down into Grand Bornand together 8 minutes and 40 seconds behind Costa.

That means Chris Froome will take a almost insurmountable lead of 5 minutes 11 seconds over Contador into tomorrow’s final mountain stage and it would take a collapse of epic proportions for him to lose that. What’s more likely is that the two small men in Nairo Quintana in third and Joaquim Rodriguez in fifth will try and vault over Contador in the standings for the final podium positions. Contador leads Quintana by just 21 seconds with Rodriguez 47 seconds behind his fellow countryman.

One final prize up for grabs tomorrow is the King of the Mountains competition. A host of points are up for grabs including 50 for the first man to the summit finish at Annecy-Semnoz and just 11 points separate first place Froome from fifth place Christophe Riblon with Pierre Rolland, Mikel Nieve and Quintana wedge in between. Safe to say the first man to the top of tomorrow’s final climb — the final climb in this Tour — will pull on the King of the Mountains jersey. It would be quite an achievement to see Froome win both the Yellow and the Polka-Dot jersey’s but I think it might be nicer to see it fall onto the shoulders of either someone who really wants it — Rolland — or a pure climber like Quintana. Also on someone who will wear it into Paris as the actual winner and not because Froome is wearing the more coveted Yellow.

We’ll watch with anticipation as we have this whole Tour.

Rui Costa wins as the only man in the picture; while Contador attacks, Froome reacts and both almost crash

Rui Costa of the Movistar team was the man who emerged from the large breakaway group, attacking alone on the last climb of the Col de Manse and dropping like a stone into Gap to finish with the solo victory as the only man in the photograph. A fantastic ride by the 26-year old from Portugal giving the Movistar team their first victory of the Tour.

If you were to open your text book of cycling stage racing to page five under the heading ‘Transition Stage’ and note the description, that is exactly what you got here in stage sixteen. Indeed, one click of the link at the bottom of the page (if you’re reading the digital edition, that is) and you’d be taken to this stages video highlights, such was the expectancy of it.

The break went clear early, a huge group of riders, plenty of whom are made for these kind of stages, and they built a large enough lead to ensure they wouldn’t be caught but not large enough that they wouldn’t be chased either and fought it out for the win. It was Costa who made the winning move and try as the chasing quartet may, they couldn’t bridge across to them. With the number of Frenchmen in the attacking group this surely served as their best chance yet to win a stage in this 100th edition of the Tour, yet they couldn’t find a way to get it done and the French had to settle with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place positions, 42 seconds behind Rui Costa.

Time is running out for the French to get a stage win and if they don’t it would be the first time they went without since the 1999 Tour. A national crisis is brewing.

Rui Costa’s victory made it the 8th different nationality to take a stage win here in the 2013 Tour (Germany 5, Great Britain 4, Belgium 1, Australia 1, Slovakia 1, Ireland 1, Italy 1, Portugal 1), and but for his waiting for team leader Alejandro Valverde on stage 13 in which he lost 8 minutes, 45 seconds to the Yellow Jersey, he would be up to 14th overall rather than the 20th place he now currently sits. Of course, had he not waited on stage 13 he might not have been allowed away on today’s stage to win by as much as he did.

Another big winner on the GC was Daniel Navarro. He was the best placed rider in the break and took back 9’42” on Froome when he crossed the line 18th, 1’26” behind Costa. That bumps him up from 20th to 14th overall, 13’54” down.

The only point in which the stage deviated from the script of transition stage was when the peloton hit that final climb. Alberto Contador decided to stretch his legs and try a flurry of attacks, of which Froome matched them all. What it did do was break the race to pieces and only six others could remain with the Spaniard and the Yellow jersey.

Contador said on the rest day that he didn’t care about finishing 2nd or 12th and that he would aggressively throw everything he had at the race over the final week. If this was a prelude to what we can expect from him, then the Alps could be very exciting. Not so much because he looks like he will shake off Froome, but because he’s at least going to try. That will win him a lot of fans.

One area Froome may be exploited is on the descents of these Alpine mountains. On the way down off the Col de Manse, Contador set a searing pace and at times was forcing Froome to chase hard to bridge the gap he would create on the hairpins. Unfortunately Contador overcooked one corner and it brought both himself and Froome to a standstill and the pair, along with Richie Porte, were forced to chase back to the group in front. They managed it and everyone finished the with same time (Laurens Ten Dam being the loser on the day dropping 1 minute to Froome and falling from 5th to 6th overall), but it highlighted just what might be up for grabs if someone risks it on a descent.

One wet day in the Alps could change everything and all reports suggest the descent off of Alpe d’Huez is chaotic. Froome should have a big buffer to play with come then and might not feel the need to take the same kinds of risks, but who knows, right now he seems intent on marking every move by a top ten rider. If Contador lives up to his promise of aggression we will either see him fail spectacularly, or blow this race wide open once more as his team did back on stage 13. So far though, Froome looks strong but the best is yet to come either way.

Stage 16 results

1. Costa in 3h 52’45”

2. Riblon +42″

3. Jeannesson s.t.

4. Coppel s.t.

5. Klöden s.t.

6. Dumoulin +1’00”

General classification after stage 16

1. Froome in 65h 15’36”

2. Mollema +4’14”

3. Contador +4’25”

4. Kreuziger +4’28”

5. Quintana +5’47”

6. Ten Dam +5’54”