A complete champion
When, in an afternoon on the 29th of setember 2013, he accelerated on the exit of a corner, surprising Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali, to catch Joaquim Rodriguez and beat him on a sprint, Rui Costa won in Florence one of history’s thougher World Championships and obtained the best ever Portuguese result in cycling and one of the most important results in Portuguese sports.
Florence, a day that the rain made the 272,3 km specially hard, will remain forever in the memory of this natural from Aguçadoura that at 11 years old achieved podiums in athletics. However, like his older brother Mário, he only felt complete when he left athletics for cycling and started to fulfill one of his father’s dreams, a cycling lover that wished for his children a future without the hardships of working the fields.
Even though he’s known for his UCI Road World Championship, his career is much more than that. Having started to race in Guilhabreu, as a 13 year old, he showed qualities that made him acknowledged by the national team and were developed at Santa Maria da Feira, where he was trained by Manuel Correia, before he represented Benfica’s under 23 team. Caisse d’Epgarne, Movistar’s predecessor, had it’s eyes on him and signed him after he won the Giro delle Regioni (2007) and got second place in the Tour de l’Avenir (2008).
It was never easy to assert yourself in the spanish teams but Rui Costa managed to do it quickly. By winning the 4 Days of Dunkirk and a stage at the Vuelta a Chihuahua (3rd overall), he immediatly earned his space in 2009. In 2011 he exploded, starting by winning the Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid and finishing the season by winning the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, his first World Tour classic. However, his season had it’s peak at the 8th stage of the Tour de France, wich he won isolated in Super Besse.
Already Time Trial portuguese champion (in 2010), Rui Costa asserted himself as one of the most complete cyclists of the world platoon, good at every terrain and with an enviable understanding of race tactics. In 2012 he would start an unprecedented campaign, by achieving the first of three consecutive wins at the Tour de Suisse to, in 2013, win stages 16 (Gap) and 19 (Le Grand Bornand) of the Tour de France, always with well planned attacks that allowed him to finish isolated. After that came the Florence win and the spanish baptized once and for all the perfect attacks: Rui Costa was the best “killer” in world cycling.
In 2014, the year that he obtained his third triumph in the Tour de Suisse, wich allowed him to avoid the famous “rainbow shirt curse”, the desire to lead a team took him to the italian team Lampre after leaving Movistar. Seen from distance, the second places at the Paris-Nice and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal and the third places in the Tour de Romandie, in Il Lombardia – first portuguese podium at a “Monument” classic – and the Volta ao Algarve are rare achievements. Those days tasted like shots on the crossbar for someone that raced for victories. However, those races contributed decisively to a great joy at the end of the year where he placed 4th in the world cycling ranking, something unthinkable a few years before.
The title of road national champion, wich allowed him to wear the Portuguese national shirt for a year, a stage and the 3rd place overall at the Criterium do Dauphiné and the 3rd place in the classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, another unprecedented feat for a portuguese, made the following years, that were marked by some misfortune in the Tour de France wich he had to abandon twice (2014 and 2015) due to a disease and the sequels of a fall.
In 2017, Rui Costa’s year was very different, with Lampre suffering a complete change, becoming UAE Emirates and gaining bigger ambitions. Rui Costa, for his sponsor’s joy, started the year with a win in the queen stage of the Vuelta a San Juan and a first overall in the Abu Dhabi Tour. He followed it up with his debut in the Giro d’Italia and in the Vuelta a España where he tried to win several stages while being marked rigorously, because in the world platoon everyone knows that when Rui Costa attacks, that’s the wheel to follow!
Written by Carlos Flórido