By Nigel Wynn
Rui Costa took the elite men's road race world title
for Portugal on Sunday after a dramatic conclusion to a race largely run out in appalling weather conditions in Italy. British hope Chris Froome withdrew during the race, in which there were no British finishers.
Costa pipped late attacker Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) to the line in Florence, with Alejandro Valverde (Spain) rounding out the podium in third. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) finished off the podium in fourth.
Pre-race favourites Peter Sagan (Slovakia), Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) and defending champion Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) all finished in a group together, 34 seconds adrift of Costa.
Did someone say epic?
An escape group of Jan Barta (Czech Republic), Matthias Brandle (Austria), Rafaa Chtioui (Tunisia), Yonder Godoy (Venezuela) and Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) formed soon after the 272km race started in Lucca. The five pushed out a gap nearing eight minutes, before that advantage was chipped away through the first half of the ten gruelling laps around Florence.
The wet conditions made for treacherous racing, and a host of big names dropping out or crashing out. All of Britain's riders withdrew by the fifth lap of the 16.6km finish circuit - Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins were the first to go.
Cadel Evans (Australia), Chris Horner (USA), Daniel Martin (Ireland), Nicolas Roche (Ireland), Tejay van Garderen (USA), Nairo Quintana (Colombia) and Thor Hushovd (Norway) were among the bigger names to drop out early.
Host nation Italy led the peloton for a huge chunk of the mid-section of the race, pegging back the break's time advantage.
With four laps to go, just Barta and Huzarski were all that was left of the original five-man move, with a gap of two minutes. Belgium then took to the front of the peloton, with six riders still in the front group including defending champion Philippe Gilbert.
Then disaster struck for Italy, with Vincenzo Nibali and Luca Paolini falling on a corner. Nibali was then forced to chase back up on his own, but managed to make it back. At the same time his compatriot Giovanni Visconti had bridged up to Huzarski up front as Barta faded. The two dangled out front for a spell, but were eventually caught - after Huzarski had spent an astonishing 230km in the break.
When the bell rang for the final lap the peloton was all together, albeit with just 42 riders on contention.
Nibali and Rodriguez went clear on the Via Salviati and hit the descent with a slim five second lead over the chasers. Lead chaser Rigoberto Uran (Colombia) crashed out on the descent after over-cooking it on a corner, and Rodriguez distanced Nibali up front who was caught by Valverde and Costa.
Nibali was forced to chase Rodriguez on his own, with Costa and Valverde happy to sit on his wheel. The trio caught Rodriguez, only for Rodriguez to attack again with 2km to go. Costa then gave chase on his own, catching Rodriguez and then out-sprinting him for the win.
The fatigued Nibali could do nothing as Valverde rode ahead to take bronze, leaving the home favourite without a place on the podium.
Great Britain finished the 2013 World Championships with one medal - Wiggins' silver in the individual time trial. The Netherlands topped the medal table with three golds.
Disappointment for Froome
British hope Froome was evidently disappointed to withdraw long before the finale of the race, after finding himself without any team-mates in the crucial mid-section of the race.
"After three laps the split started happening and I looked around and saw that I didn't have any team-mates with me, so I decided is wasn't going to happen today," he said.
"The conditions are the same for everyone so we've got no excuse, we just weren't there today."
Geraint Thomas was the last of the eight British riders to pull out. "Not the best day on the bike," said Thomas. "Obviously, we had Froomey as a leader and he wasn't having a great day... The rest of us didn't really have the legs to do anything in the final."
Commenting on the conditions, Thomas said "It was carnage out there, soon as you drift to the second half of that peloton you get caught up in crashes. As soon as that happens you lose wheels. Once you're in that back half, you're destined to get dropped."
UCI Road World Championships 2013: Elite men's road race, 272km
1. Rui Costa (Portugal) in 7-25-44
2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) at same time
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) at 16 secs
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) at 16 secs
5. Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) at 31 secs
6. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) at 34 secs
7. Simon Clarke (Australia)
8. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kazakhstan)
9. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
10. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) at same time
Great Britain on the frontin the early part of the race
It's good for the garden, though, isn't it
Australia's Cadel Evans and David Tanner crash out
Nibali and Valverde in the finish for third
Winner Rui Costa of Portugal
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