World champion picks out Contador, Martin and Kwiatkowski as favourites
Portugal's world champion Rui Costa described himself as living a dream when he faced the press on the eve of the Volta ao Algarve, which will be his first competitive appearance on home soil in the rainbow jersey.
However, the Lampre-Merida leader admitted that he doesn't believe that the dream that began when he claimed the world crown will stretch as far as him winning this five-day stage race. Although picked out by Algarve race director Candido Barbosa as the favourite the for title, Costa suggested defending champion Tony Martin, the German's Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Michal Kwiatkowski and past Algarve winner Alberto Contador were much more likely contenders.
"My dream is to enjoy this world champion's jersey, and especially here in Portugal," Costa said. "It gives me real joy, especially because so many of my supporters are here in Portugal. I am always keen to come to the Tour of the Algarve."
After Barbosa, who was sitting next to him, had expressed his wish for Costa to swap his rainbow jersey for the yellow of the Algarve winner, the world champion smiled broadly and said, "Having done some other races, I can say that there are some riders who are a step above me. One is Kwiatkowski, who won a stage in Majorca. Others are looking very strong, too, like Tony Martin and Contador, who despite it being his first race of the season will certainly want to win."
Costa acknowledged the fact the stage 3 time trial is much shorter than last year at just 13.6km, which should suit him, but insisted that his form is still building as he looks ahead two weeks to Paris-Nice, which will be his first major goal of the season. "But it is very important for us to be in good shape here in the Algarve with a view to what lies ahead," he said.
Asked about his prospects further into the season at the Tour de France, where he will lead Lampre's attack, Costa said he is not expecting to finish on the podium and that his team aren't expecting that either.
"They are not putting any pressure on anyone. They know what I aspire to and perhaps because of that, they are not pushing me," he said. "It will be a different Tour as it will be the first time that I will lead a team in that race. That's why I can only say that we will see how it goes."
The 27-year-old Portuguese rider also denied having had any contact with F1's Fernando Alonso with a view to joining his new team next season. "There have been no conversations with Alonso," he said, playing down rumours of a possible link-up in 2015.