Contributed by David Hunter
It’s not everyday you get to talk to one of your idols and I was recently lucky enough to do just that as I had the honour of asking the current World Champion, Rui Costa, some questions about “that day in Italy” and life at his new team, Lampre-Merida.
2013 wasn’t just a good year for him, it was amazing – he retained the Tour de Suisse, won 2 stages in the Tour de France and claimed the Rainbow Jersey.
Can you talk me through the day of the World Championships?
It was not a strange day. We did the same as the other national teams and the same as we did in previous World Championship Road Races. This was a long race, so I needed to get up early and put more attention into what I was eating, because it is not the same to eat for a short race (140 kms) than for a long race (more than 250 kms).
The weather was really bad, and again, I did well in the rain. I won a stage of the Tour of France with a lot of rain. I won the World Championship after a rainy day too. But I don’t specifically like the rain. It seems that I can offer very good performances in these kind of days, but I don’t love to cycle in rainy days.
The early part of the race was conditioned for the rain. It was really hard, the circuit was really demanding and dangerous too. It was one of the hardest races that I have ever run. After the race, I checked my power data, and it was unbelievable! In my point of view, the race was harder than people can imagine because the circuit didn’t allow you to relax. In other circuits, you have a climb, a downhill… but 30-40% of the circuit in flat terrain, perfect to go inside the bunch, to eat and to save energy. In this circuit, you could never relax!
After the race, we didn’t do anything special. I only wanted to be with my friends from the Portuguese Federation. We organised a special dinner in a restaurant close to the hotel and we enjoyed being together. It was the victory of the Portuguese Federation too because they invested a lot in the past to allow us to run the Nations Cup, when we were under 23. It gave us international experience! I don’t remember the hour when we got to bed, but we were all together after the dinner, eating a very sweet ice cream.
Digging deep on the last hill
What about the last 2km, what was going through your head? When did you realise you were going to win?
It was not a time to think a lot. It was time to decide and to follow your feelings. At 2 kilometres to go, I saw that we were not close to chase to Joaquím Rodríguez, and I thought that I had to attack. There were no other options to win. When I attacked, I employed all my energy using the 53×11, and I only thought that I had to catch Purito as soon as possible. When I reached him and he didn’t attack me, I know he preferred to wait to the sprint. Then I started to think that I had an opportunity.
What were you thinking when you crossed the line?
It was not time to think, it was time to feel! Then I thought about my family, about all the people who supported me, about my country… It was fantastic!
How did it feel to wear the Rainbow Jersey for the first time?
I cried on the podium and I am sure that it shows you what you can feel in that moment. It felt really good because you are living a dream. I always say the same sentence: to win the World Championship is to make true, a very nice and sweet dream.
What was your first thought when you woke up the next morning?
I looked at the rainbow jersey to check that it was not a dream, and it was real!
Did you dream about the race?
In general, I was dreaming all my life about the World Championship. But I didn’t dream about this race in Italy especially. I wanted to keep it low-key. For example, I didn’t go to visit the circuit. I saw the profiles in the book and it was enough for me, if I go to visit the circuit and lose a lot of time checking all the different points of it, you are putting yourself under too much pressure. I prefer to be more relaxed and wait for D-Day, with all the energy in my legs and my mind.
What about the extra attention. How have you coped?
It is not easy! But I have a good working group around me. Also, I know that I have to be polite with the mass media and the fans. The best way to do it is to respect my profession. That’s why, I try to answer the maximum number of interviews, but my priority is to work, and to work really hard! Anyhow, I like to be close to my followers. In this way, I say that I don’t have fans, I have friends! I try to explain to them all my thoughts through my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RuiAlbertoFariaCosta. We are more than 150,000 friends now!
Have you heard about the curse of the rainbow jersey? There is even a book about it…
Yes, but there were really nice victories of riders with the rainbow jersey in the past too. Maybe, it is possible to write a book about all these victories too! It is true that with the rainbow jersey, it is not easy to surprise your enemies in a break. But some of my victories, like the overall of the Tour of Switzerland or the stages in Tour de France were not due to the surprise factor.
Did you keep anything from that day?
The rainbow jersey, of course! And a lot of other small things. But the most important are the memories of the day.
You have achieved something that most can only dream of. What is your next target?
I have a lot of targets, I am only 27 years old. I wish to win a lot of different races in the future, it won’t be easy, but they are lovely races because they are not easy, of course.
You have now joined Lampre-Merida and will lead them at the Tour. You have said that you hope for the top 10. How do you rate your chances?
The most important thing is the performance and not the result. Yes, I want to be top 10 in the Tour de France, but the Tour is a long race and you need to think everyday about you, your enemies and your possibilities in the race. Also, I don’t like to be all the year thinking about July. We are now in January and I prefer to go step by step. My first step is the Tour of Dubai.
In the 2013 Tour you won 2 stages, but the team lost a lot in the crosswinds. What did you think about Belkin when they attacked?
I cannot say anything wrong about Belkin. They were strong in this terrain, they were in a good position and they played their cards… and did it well!
What was your favourite stage win in the Tour?
All the stages in the Tour are special. The first is always different, but I enjoyed all three victories.
You were brilliant in the Tour de Suisse, retaining your title. What do you remember of the week?
In 2013, I lived a really different experience. In 2012, for example, I was in the yellow jersey all week and it meant I had a lot of pressure on me. I had some really difficult moments during the race. In 2013, I started not as well as in 2012, but I finished really strong. The Individual Time Trial in Switzerland, was one of my best days as a professional rider. I think I was stronger in 2013: two stage victories… and better feelings during the week and especially the last days.
New team and of course a new bike with Lampre-Merida?
I am really happy with Merida. It is not only an excellent bike for road and for individual time trials, but the company offered me a very strong working group to change some small details about my position on the bike and it is amazing. We are working on a lot of small points, that I never worked on before. Merida is putting a lot of attention on me and I am really happy with them. Believe me: Merida bikes are really very good. I have felt comfortable since the first day, and you only can feel it, if the bike is excellent.
How do you feel about the pavé stage of the Tour? Will you be doing any extra work on pavé?
We have not decided anything. I need to speak with the team about it. I did races with pave in my first years in the professional category, so I have experience. It is obvious that I am not a specialist, but I hope we can do well. It is really important to have a strong group of riders around you, and Lampre-Merida has good riders for it.
Who do you respect the most in the world of cycling?
All the riders in the world, I like to respect all of them. It is obvious that if you think about Chris Froome, you have to say that he is the best rider for tours in the world, just now. But all the riders in the bunch have my respect, and you have to study everyone before you make decisions because all riders can beat you.
If you had to retire tomorrow, would you still be happy man?
Yes, of course, I have achieved good victories… but I like to be ambitious, so allow me to keep dreaming and riding!