Rui Costa played his rivals perfectly to become the first Portuguese rider to win the World Championships today in Florence. In a tactical game, he out-foxed two Spaniards - Joaquím Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde - and Italy's Vincenzo Nibali.
"I was waiting for the sprint all day, saving as much energy as possible to get to the finish. I got there. It was just a tactical sprint," Costa said in a press conference. "I was hoping my legs wouldn't fail me, they didn't. It was the most beautiful win of my life."
After 80 editions, he is Portugal's first medallist and first in the race's rainbow jersey. So fooled by Costa, Rodríguez and Valverde would not even look at each other.
"If it was the race of my life that I wanted to win. We can talk about a million things, but I didn't win," Rodríguez, an accomplished one-day and stage racer said. "We did an amazing race, but the one who did the race of his life was Rui Costa."
Rodríguez shot free with Nibali on the main climb to Fiesole on the last lap of a rain-soaked day. The sun came out to indicate that this was the winning move. Costa, Valverde and Rigoberto Urán (Colombia) flew down in pursuit, just seconds back. Urán crashed, Valverde and Urán bridged. The game began.
Rodríguez attacked leading to the steep Via Salviati climb. Valverde and Costa forced Nibali to chase. "Rodriguez had the least amount to lose, he was the fastest and risking the most," Costa added. "I knew he had a certain advantage with three kilometres to race. I had to pick my moment at the right time, catch him at the right time so there was not too much cat-n-mouse."
"We knew that Costa was dangerous," said Valverde. "When 'Purito' [Rodríguez] went, I thought that he had won. I couldn't attack with 'Purito' up the road. When Costa went, I was behind Nibali, and he couldn't follow him."
Nibali was able to pull Rodríguez back, but he attacked again ahead of the last Via Trento ramp into town. Costa waited and went. Valverde was unable to follow. Costa explained, "I attacked decisively, making sure no one was on my wheel."
Costa celebrated. The Spanish camp remained bitter seemly more than the British riders, all eight who abandoned early on.
"Two medals don't mean anything," added Rodríguez. "We want to win, and to be so close, and not win, well, it's not something to celebrate. I don't know if I will have another chance like this. I don't take consolation in silver and bronze, because we want to win."
Costa took it. He takes the jersey with him from Valverde's Movistar team to Lampre-Merida next year. This rainbow win, more so than two Tour de France stages this summer, will earn him a good bonus on top of his contract.
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