Fresh from a third successive victory at the Tour de Suisse, Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) heads to the Tour de France as a team leader for the first time in his career, but the world champion is reluctant to target a specific place in the general classification.
“I have no concrete goal. I always tend to think that my goal should be just to improve each year. In truth, I could never ride the Tour de France for the overall before, so this is my debut with that mentality and I have no specific reference for what I can do,” Costa told Biciciclismo.
The Portuguese rider won two stages of the Tour last year while riding in the service of Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana at Movistar, while his best overall finish was his 18th place in 2012.
“With tough stages like the one with the cobbles, it’s better to take it day by day than become obsessed by a goal,” he said of his prospects this time around. “You can think about stages and find yourself in a good position overall, but then you can have a bad day and you have to forget about it.”
Rui Costa listed Chris Froome and Alberto Contador as the favourites for overall victory, but downplayed his chances of being in contention for the third step on the podium in Paris, pointing out that there is a lengthy roll call of riders with far more experience at the business end of a grand tour.
“I can’t say that my goal is to finish third because until now I have never been fighting for those positions,” he said. “There are opponents who know about finishing on the podium and fighting for three weeks – Nibali and Valverde, to name but two, have more experience than me and are favourites for the podium.”
Costa’s victory on the final stage in Switzerland was his first in the rainbow jersey, but after a solid spring that included podium finishes at Paris-Nice and the Volta ao Algarve, he said that he was not feeling under pressure to break his duck as world champion. “Obviously I wanted to win for the team and the sponsors but I really wasn’t worried because my performances were still good and my feelings too,” he said.
Costa opted to sign just a one-year contract when he reached an agreement with Lampre-Merida last summer and has yet to commit to the team for next season, although he insisted that he was pleased with his time at the Italian squad to date.
“I decided to go to Lampre-Merida for a year only because I thought it was right that I should get to know them and they should get to know me,” he said. “I think that before signing long contracts, you should sign for just one season. And if that goes well, you can talk about being with the team for many years. But the important thing is that all parties know each other and see if they are happy or not. For my part, I’m happy at Lampre-Merida and I think that I made the right decision last winter.”