In all of the talks about favourites for Amstel Gold Race, Rui Costa has been largely looked over. An escape artist on a bike, if the rumoured tailwind comes good on Sunday then the former world champion would be a hard man to beat if he got away. Costa will be leading Lampre-Merida following a strong performance in the Tour of the Basque Country last week, and his team have every faith in him to bring home the win.
“When you have Rui Costa in the team you know that you are here for the victory,” Lampre-Merida directeur sportif Philippe Mauduit told Cyclingnews. “Last week he was back in competition at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and he did his best performance of his career there so we are pretty confident and he is pretty confident too.”
Costa has had a quiet start to the year with 11th overall at the Tour of Oman but his return to Europe with Paris-Nice and later País Vasco has seen him much closer to the mix. Amstel Gold has not been the richest of hunting grounds for Costa with his best performance 17th at last year’s race. However, Costa is known for his aggressive riding style and the team will want to make the most of it, but they won’t necessarily be waiting for the final ascent of the Cauberg to test the waters.
“If it’s a bit chaotic then you can probably try way before the finish. It always depends on how many riders each of the teams have in the last hour of racing,” explained Mauduit. “If you have some teams with a lot of riders then you know that they will be able to work hard. If all the teams have only one or two riders then we can play more with the tactics.”
Unlike some of his rivals, Costa will not have the same backing that rivals such as Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) will enjoy. With this in mind, Lampre-Merida will be looking to the bigger teams to set the early agenda. “It’s important to try and adapt your tactic to one of the major teams. If they’re riding hard then we need to be a bit more conservative and if they’re not riding hard then we need to make it harder,” Mauduit said.
“We are not the strongest favourites we are outsiders. We have to be clever and we have to look carefully how the race will develop because we need a hard race for him. He cannot wait for a sprint.”
Amstel will be Costa’s best shot at victory during Ardennes week, with the team looking to Rafael Valls and Diego Ulissi for the remaining two races.