Questions, no doubt, will surround the performance of the Spanish National team in the World Road Race Championships as Rui Costa (Portugal) surprised the Spanish Armada winning the Rainbow Jersey. With the Iberian Penninsula taking the entire podium as Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde claimed silver and bronze respectively, many will wonder if the rainbow jersey slipped through Spain’s seemingly firm grasp – most notably an emotional Rodriguez himself.
The 272km epic course threw everything it could at the riders, including numerous crashes, torrential downpours and the brutal climbs of up to 16%, and with two laps to go the main field was reduced to some 45 riders give or take as the list of DNF’s grew larger by each additional minute. (Only 61 riders would finish out of the original 207!) The Italian team promised to be aggressive and they delivered just that with Giovanni Visconti having attacked to encourage a high pace from the chasers. Vincenzo Nibali was nearly a casualty of this momentum as he came unhitched and crashed on the slick descent only to be helped back into the peloton by fine-resulting team car pacing and sticky bottles.
On the final lap, many of the big names had survived the race of attrition including Gilbert, Cancellara and Sagan, but it was Joaquim Roriguez who lit the burners on the upper slopes of the Fiesole climb making huge gaps that only Nibali, Uran, Costa and lastly Valverde were able to bridge across to. Nibali then looked to keep the pace high as he launched away with Rodriguez approaching the summit with the other three just seconds behind. Further down the slope, the hopes of the aforementioned classics men could see there opportunity ride away as they couldn’t match the pace set by the climbers.
On the descent the group of five looked to be coming together lead by Uran, but he took a corner too hot and crashed very hard into the grassy slopes of the roadside. At te base of the hill, it was Rodriguez again taking off alone and Nibali chasing as Valverde smartly sat on the Italian’s wheel waiting for the following Via Salvati climb. Purito hit the climb first, then Nibali with Valverde playing defensive marking the Italian and Costa turning himself inside out to stay with the other two.
Over the top Purito looked to be holding back as things became uncertain as the race evolved on the road and the minds and legs of the riders were beyond exhaustion after 270km in the wet. Nibali, was frustrated he wasn’t getting help from the other two. Valverde was marking the chase for Purito waiting for the sprint and Costa looked gassed. But ahead Rodriguez didn’t go, either because he couldn’t or he wouldn’t. With no radio’s he waed his hands at his teammate but the race became a tactical quagmire and so Rodriguez went again soloing for the finish. He held four seconds over the serpitine bridge above the railroad and through the corner Costa jumped and caught Valverde and Nibali out.
Purito was TTing to the line but the much faster Costa was closing fast. With Nibali refusing to chase without Valverde’s help. As the Portuguese rider caught Rodriguez the two leaders sat up looking at the gap while the chasers marked each other. Costa outsprinted Rodriguez for the biggest win of his career deserving every last stripe on it for not only surviving but winning while behind Valverde easily beat Nibali to fill the podium. As the three climbed to the podium tears or frustration were written on each of the riders eyes. Costa from joy, Purito from heartbreak, Valverde from disbelief. After 7 hours, 25minutes and 44 seconds of effort, the emotions have nowhere to hide.
Rui Costa: “When there were only five of us in the last lap I started to believe I could win. Luckily I was feeling good,” he said. “I knew I’d suffer on Via Salviati, but I knew when to attack and play it out with ‘Purito’ in the sprint too.”
After the race Rodriguez said: “What can we do? Alejandro should have jumped, but I don’t know what happened. We’ve missed an opportunity. I could not do anymore. Alejandro told me I could attack, and we were in a good position, but when Rui caught me I knew it was over. For me this medal doesn’t count for much. I wanted to win. I guess it’s the same for Alejandro. Clearly this is Purito’s destiny,” he said holding back more tears “To lose the Giro by a whisker, then the Vuelta and now the Worlds.”
Valverde: “Purito did everything perfectly, and I honestly believed he was riding to the win. I should have followed Rui but I simply couldn’t. For sure I would prefer that this medal was gold, but if I didn’t win it’s only because I couldn’t, When Rui Costa attacked he was very strong. I simply could do no more.”