It was a real hardman’s day as relentless rain for all but the last lap wreaking havoc: only 61 riders made it to the line after seven-and-a-half hours of racing. Spain took bronze as well through Alejandro Valverde, but spare a thought for home favourite Vincezo Nibali who fought back from a late crash only to find himself isolated against the Iberians.
For Costa, a fabulous top-off to a fabulous season, and he’ll do the rainbow jersey proud with Lampre next year.
How it went down:
The elite men’s road race starts in the beautiful but bedraggled town of Lucca as the rain tips down. It’s not going to be a pleasant ride! Who will pull on the pristine rainbow jersey on such a dank, grey day? The experts say Sagan, Cancellara, Boasson Hagen and Gilbert are the men to watch, but on a one-off like the Worlds, strange things sometimes happen.
The early break coagulates and the earliest scar tissue on the race’s body comprises the youngest man in the event, Yonder Godoy of Venezuela, Bartosz Huzarski (Poland), Rafaa Chtioui (Morocco), the Czech Republic’s Jan Barta and Matthias Brandle (Austria). They stretch out to over seven minutes as they splash through Montecatini Terme and Lamporecchio. Florence, and those finishing circuits, seems a long way off.
The early break makes its way around the course in the atrocious conditions.
The ex-World champion Mark Cavendish (GB) is sharing a lot of the early pace-setting duties for his team, rolling along with Luke Rowe, stretching out the main group.
Coming off the San Baronto climb, the peloton split on the descent with guys like Wiggins (GB) and Talansky (USA) stuck in the second group. Cav continued to pull the main peloton; no race radios so they might not have known Wiggins was AWOL. Funnily enough, back in the day, I went round Europe by train and when I arrived in Florence it was lashing rain, just like it was for the riders.
It’s coming down like ramrods as they near the historic center of this beautiful city. The break has in the region of eight minutes when they reach town. Then it’s onto the steep Fiesole climb with Chtioui doing the work and Godoy first over the top.
155kms left and the Italians hit the front and wind it up. Immediate consequences behind them see a reduced front group to fifty riders and a scramble to get back. The Italians and the Belgians are smart, but Sagan, Boasson Hagen and the Spanish are caught out and chasing.
Eight laps to go: the Italians have reduced the gap to the escape quintet to just over four minutes. Cadel Evans has crashed out; the conditions are making the road surface treacherous. There’s another crash off the Fiesole, and then coming off the Via Salviati. It’s chaotic trying to figure out who’s upright, who’s dropped.
Seven laps to go: the Italians are still forcing the pace with Vanotti riding heroically. The Spanish are chasing equally heroically, and it looks like the remaining big names are coming together.
For Team GB though, it’s just a day that goes from bad, to worse, to disaster. Wiggins gone, the worker bee Cav gone, Rowe, Stannard, Edmonson and Cummings out, and then the leader Froome with six laps to go. Geraint Thomas is still out there somewhere, like a downed fighter pilot in hiding who still thinks the Vietnam War is going on.
We’ve also lost Sammy Sanchez, Cadel Evans (crash), Siutsou (crash), Michael Matthews, Bjorn Leukemans, Taylor Phinney, Chris Horner (crash), Andrew Talansky, the entire Irish team including Roche and Martin and the South African Daryl Impey.
The winner might be the last man standing! Heading to 100kms to go and the break starts to fall apart – Chtioui and Brandle in trouble, then Godoy. The NetApp-Endura trade team-mates Huzarski and Barta push on together.
Five laps to go: Huzarski and Barta navigate the start/finish line again with 3’ 25” on the peloton. Brandle and Godoy are in between but dropping back. The two leaders gingerly tiptoe their way around tight corners and descend like over-protected toddlers, but given today’s conditions that’s understandable.
In the peloton (or what’s left of it) we have four Swiss up front with the Italians and Belgians. The Germans are showing themselves, too.
Four laps to go: still the front duo away, and 2’ 40” clear. France are moving forward en masse now. Stetina (USA) launches a dig, there’s a reaction, and the race is entering the red zone.
Now Visconti (Italy), Gautier (France), Priedler (Austria) and Kelderman (Netherlands) together and working. Huszarski drops Barta and is solo at the head of the Worlds.
The Italian drops his companions and pulls inexorably towards the Polish leader. As he makes contact, his capo comes down behind – Nibali on the tarmac, along with Paolini. Belgium ramp it up now, and Nibali is suddenly a minute down, fiddling with his shoes.
Two laps to go, or 32kms left, and Nibali is closing in. Voeckler is dropped from the leaders, Belgium look comfortable. The sun is coming out now. Contador is dropped but Spain have numbers. For Italy, it’s Pippo Pozzatto, Scarponi and Nibali. Gilbert for Belgium has made no mistakes so far. There’s a bit of a lull now and the front group coalesces once again.
Attack! Romain Bardet launches for France up the Via Salviati but he’s not allowed any space before Scarponi closes it down.
Last lap! Polanc leads over the start/finish line for the penultimate time as we have sunshine on the heads of state. Seven hours and two minutes on the clock already! Only fifteen kilometres of struggling remain. The Fiesole climb, to 8%, for the last time, and Italy are back on the front before the familiar rocking shoulders of Chris Anker Sorensen move forward for Denmark.
Attack! Scarponi plays a card for Italy forcing a chase from Spain, Belgium and Denmark. Purito Rodriguez gets up to him, and Nibali, too, as the leading group explodes.
Now Rodriguez and Nibali ride away through a curtain of smoke from a flare, as Uran, Valverde and Costa chase at five seconds. Cancellara, Gilbert and Sagan aren’t here.
They fly off the Fiesole – even if the sun is out, the surface is still dangerous and Uran gets it all horribly wrong, crashing spectacularly out of contention with nine kilometres to go. Valverde and Costa get up to the lead duo, but Rodriguez goes again and Valverde won’t chase. Nibali and Costa need to do something quickly.
Rodriguez is on the Via Salviati now, with Nibali towing the chase at eleven seconds. Nibali’s pressure is dropping Costa, but if he catches Rodriguez, he’ll just tow Valverde to the title.
Four kilometres left and Nibali closes it down. Four together: Nibali, Rodriguez and Valverde, and Costa.
Three clicks left: they take the left-hander carefully and Rodriguez goes again, Nibali chases again.
Two to go: Rodriguez has about two seconds but he’s not looking back. The Spaniard takes the last hairpin, and Nibali tows Valverde before easing up. Costa jumps them in the chase and gets up to Rodriguez. The Spanish mouse slows it right down, and turns to converse with the Portugese cat. They wind the sprint up – Costa gets in front, Rodriguez tries to pull level but runs out of gas.
Costa disbelievingly throws his arms in the air as Portugal’s first world road champion on a brutal day of racing. Spain take second and third, Nibali disconsolately fourth. If there’s any consolation for Rodriguez and Valverde, it’s that they won’t get slaughtered the way in their home press the way the Italians will!
Keep it Pez for Ed Hood’s roadside report.
UCI Men’s Elite Road Race, 272kms, Lucca – Florence
1 Rui Costa (Portugal) 7hrs 25’ 44”
2 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) same time
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spain) + 16”
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) same time
5 Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) + 31”
6 Peter Sagan (Slovakia) + 34”
7 Simon Clarke (Australia)
8 Maxim Iglinsky (Ukraine)
9 Phillipe Gilbert (Belgium)
10 Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) all same time