“We can do it,” team manager, Brent Copeland told Cycling Weekly earlier this year. “Given the Tour de France’s course this year and his history in the race and in Suisse, it’s possible. We just need to give him the support he deserves.”
The Italian team in blue and pink has yet to name its nine-man roster but Costa should be able to count on Portuguese countryman Nelson Oliveira, Spaniard Rafael Valls and American Chris Horner. Horner won the Vuelta a España last year but only just returned to racing this month after a car hit him while training this April, puncturing his lung and breaking his ribs.
When not protecting the 27-year-old world champion, Lampre will rally around sprinter Sacha Modolo for stage wins.
Costa won the stages to Gap and Le Grand Bornand from escapes last year, took the worlds title in Florence and signed for Lampre from team Movistar. Copeland said that the team switch could make the difference.
“He didn’t have the space he needed in the team with [Alejandro] Valverde and [Nairo] Quintana,” added Copeland. “We haven’t seen his true potential and there’s definitely a margin of improvement.”
Costa said this year that he needs to improve his time trialling. He lost three minutes in the flat 33-kilometre time trial last year but in Suisse last week, placed third at 28 seconds to World Champion Tony Martin in a 24.7-kilometre stage.
Though this year is not time trial laden like 2012, it features a 54-kilometre stage to Perigueux on the penultimate day. Sky’s Chris Froome said that if he can hold his rivals until that stage, then he would have the advantage to win the Tour again. Costa simply wants to see how far he can go in his first try in the Tour’s overall classification.
“I’m not setting a specific goal for myself,” he told Spain’s Bici Ciclismo website. “I always tend to think that my goal should be to improve each year, but the truth is that I’ve never ridden for the overall. I have no specific reference to what I can do.
“Froome and Contador have an advantage over their rivals because they already know how to win the Tour. I cannot say that my goal is to be third because until now I’ve never fought for it like Nibali or Valverde, just to name two who have more experience.”
Third consecutive win in Tour de Suisse for World Champion Rui Costa
Newly-crowned road race World Champion Rui Costa will lead Lampre-Merida team at next year's Tour de France