Costa Wins World Road Race Championship
Costa became the first Portuguese world road race champion by pipping Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) in a two-up sprint. He won the rugged, 272.26-km ride from Lucca to Florence, Italy in 7:25:44. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) outsprinted Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) to take third at 0:17.
Until today, good weather had greeted the riders in this year’s world road race championships. Today, however, the riders in the elite men’s road race left Lucca in a downpour. At 14 km, Bartosz Huzarski (Poland), Jan Barta (Czech Republic), Matthias Brandle (Austria), Yonder Godoy (Venezuela), and Rafaa Chtioui (Tunisia) got clear. Great Britain rode tempo, and the escapees’ lead maxed out at more than eight minutes before the peloton cut it to 7:44 at 112 km, the start of the first of 10 16-km laps.
Italy made a controversial move by taking over at the front and upping the tempo. Some observers felt that the azzurri did too much work too early in the race. Regardless of whether the Italians used poor tactics, they cut the break’s advantage to 5:56 at the end of the first lap, 4:10 at the end of the second, and 2:22 at the conclusion of the third. The pace and the rain, the latter of which caused numerous crashes, reduced the peloton to 60 riders at the start of the fourth lap, with riders such as Samuel Sanchez (Spain); Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland); Tejay van Garderen, Taylor Phinney, and Chris Horner (all from the United States); Nicolas Roche (Ireland); Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain); and Matti Breschel (Denmark) calling it a day. Most of the heads of state were still in the race, however.
On the fourth lap, Chtioui dropped off of the pace, and one lap later, Brandle and Godoy followed suit. Behind, the Italians cut the fugitives’ lead to two minutes but then backed off, which allowed Barta and Huzarski to increase their lead.
On the sixth lap, riders began to attack from the peloton. Georg Priedler (Austria) attacked on the Via Salviati, and Wilco Kelderman (Netherlands) joined him. At the end of the lap, the pair was 2:01 behind the leaders, with the bunch at 2:41.
The peloton accelerated, and on the climb to Fiesole Cyril Gautier (France) attacked. At the summit, the Frenchman was 0:10 behind Priedler and Kelderman, who trailed Barta and Huzarski by less than a minute. At this point, the peloton was at 1:15. Giovanni Visconti (Italy) attacked and joined Gautier.
At the top of the seventh ascent of Via Salviati, Barta and Huzarski led Priedler and Kelderman by 0:25, and Visconti and Gautier were at 0:42, with the peloton at 1:27. Again, the Italians eased up, and at the end of the lap, Priedler and Kelderman were at 0:15, and the bunch was at 1:44.
On the eighth ascent of the Fiesole, Huzarski dropped Barta and the two chase groups merged. Visconti attacked, overtook Barta, and was 0:20 behind Huzarski at the top. Behind, the peloton reeled in the other chasers and was at 1:48 at the summit. At the summit of the Via Salviati, Visconti trailed Huzarski by a few seconds, while the peloton, which the Belgians led, was at 1:15.
The rain stopped, and the sun began to shine. The ground was still wet, however, and crashes took their toll. The Italians were particularly hard hit, as Luca Paolini and Nibali hit the deck. Nibali remounted and chased, but he used much energy rejoining the peloton.
On the ninth ascent of the Via Salviati, Romain Bardet (France) attacked and led the peloton by a few seconds at the summit. Michele Scarponi (Italy) followed the Frenchman, however, and the bunch shut down the move. Germany took over at the front and did the pacemaking going into the last lap.
The peloton was 45-strong when it took on the Fiesole for the last time. Italy and Denmark led the field onto the climb. Scarponi attacked, and Rodriguez and Valverde (both from Spain), Nibali, Costa, Rigoberto Uran and Carlos Betancur (both from Colombia), and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway) followed. Nibali attacked near the summit, and Rodriguez joined him. They breasted the climb 0:05 ahead of the chasers.
On the descent, Uran overcooked a turn and crashed. Rodriguez dropped Nibali, and Valverde and Costa caught the Italian. With no assistance from his companions, Nibali was forced to lead the chase. The quartet came together with four km left.
Rodriguez took another dig. Again, Nibali led the pursuit. He was not closing the gap, however. With two km remaining, the Italian, who was either unable or unwilling to do more chasing, sat up. Costa, who had been sitting on Valverde’s wheel, attacked.
Costa slowly reeled in the Spaniard. He caught Rodriguez with 500 m left. Rodriguez turned to the Portuguese, and the two conversed briefly. Rodriguez led out the sprint. Costa jumped into the lead with 150 m to go, but Rodriguez came alongside of him. Costa then seized the gold medal with a bike throw. Rodriguez settled for silver, and Valverde bested Nibali for the bronze.
Costa was ecstatic. He shouted and placed his hands on his head in disbelief. He and his team had expected Italy and Spain to attempt to dominate the race. "Wearing this jersey was the goal of my whole career," he said, "and I cannot believe it....A world championship is like a lottery, and it is difficult to win it. It is always difficult....You always go through ups and downs. At times, I was not well, but the feelings improved in the last lap. I knew I had to be careful in Fiesole....I thought...that Italy would lead the race and that the Spaniards were worried about keeping Nibali at bay."
Valverde, Costa’s teammate on Movistar, was philosophical about Spain’s failure to win despite having the numbers in the final break. “I am not going to complain,” he said. “I have five medals, and although we did not win gold today, we will continue fighting to make it possible in the coming years. We knew that Rui was strong. I knew that he was as dangerous as Nibali…but after 270 kilometers the legs did not respond….I should have been there, but I couldn't be. Second and third are worth being happy about, and you have to congratulate Rui because he was the best.”
Rodriguez was inconsolable. He wept on the podium and at the postrace press conference. “The situation was perfect for Spain, because I told Alejandro to go on the wheel of whoever chased after me,” he said. “When I saw Rui Costa come across alone, I didn’t understand what had happened, but I knew I was riding for second.” He added, "We can run through a million scenarios, but the only thing that counts is if you win, and I didn't win today."
Today’s riders have one major race on to look forward to in 2013: the Giro di Lombardia on October 6. How many of these riders will take on the race? How will they fare? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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