By Gregor Brown
Portugal's Rui Costa closed a year of mixed fortunes in the rainbow jersey of World Champion on Sunday in Ponferrada, Spain. After winning in Florence last year, the 27-year-old joined Lampre-Merida for 2014 and began his rainbow run.
His run as world champion was not as successful as it was for Mark Cavendish, but then the Briton sprints and has more opportunities to win. Costa did, however, win as much as 2012 Champion, Belgium's Philippe Gilbert: once. You could say twice if you count the ninth stage to Saas-Fee and the Tour de Suisse overall win that came along with it on the same day in April.
Costa repeated his Tour de Suisse overall win from 2013 and marked a 2014 high doing so. He also placed second in stages three times and third overall in his home tour, the Volta ao Algarve, and twice second in stages and second overall in Paris-Nice behind Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale).
The rest of 2014 was not so kind to the often smiling Costa, who comes from Póvoa de Varzim but lives in Lugano, Switzerland. Lampre took him to the Tour de France for the overall and talked about a top three finish. It was a big ask for Costa, winner of two stages in 2013, who has never raced for the Tour's yellow jersey.
Costa's hopes faded after the onset of pneumonia that forced him out of the Tour on stage 15. He switched his aim to recovery and the Ponferrada Worlds north of his country in Spain's northwest. Ahead of the Worlds, he placed second in the GP Montreal to show that he was on track. However, he could only muster a 23rd place after finishing on top in 2013.
"He's a rider for the Tour that you can work around," Lampre's team manager, Brent Copeland told Cycling Weekly.
"He doesn't need to improve that much, but we need to improve our team around him. We have better idea of what his needs are for the next Grand Tour that we do with him as a captain. Next year, will bring on board men who can sit in the wind for him. You have to start looking a year before to build towards a Tour top three. It's a long process."
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