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World champion Rui Costa after the sumo exhibition in Saitama.
Portuguese rider signed contract before Worlds win
Rui Costa has said that he does not regret signing a contract for the 2014 season before winning the world championships in Florence in September. The Portuguese rider penned a one-year deal with Lampre-Merida in August and insisted that it was the correct decision in light of the current market in professional cycling.
"No, I don't regret it one bit," Rui Costa told Marca. "If you’re aiming for the Worlds and win, then maybe you can get a better contract. But if you fall and get injured, who's going to sign you in a year when Vacansoleil, Euskaltel and Sojasun all disappear? There are dozens of quality riders without a contract for 2014.
"Lampre-Merida gave me the opportunity to be a leader in several races and that made my mind up for me. They believed in me before I became champion and that confirms my choice."
Rui Costa's decision to leave Movistar was based at least in part on his desire to pursue his own ambitions in three-week stage races. Although he won two stages at this year's Tour de France, he sacrificed his own place on general classification in a futile attempt to help leader Alejandro Valverde when he suffered mechanical trouble on stage 13.
Lampre-Merida has already announced that Costa will lead the team at next year's Tour de France, but he was circumspect about his chances next July, simply pointing out that at 27 years of age, it is time to examine fully the range of his possibilities over three weeks.
"I've always said that I'm not sure what kind of rider I am. When I was an under-23 rider, it was the same thing: I was up there with the best in one-day races but I also won the overall at the Giro delle Regioni," Costa said.
"As a professional, it's clear that there are classics and one-week stages that I can win, I've shown that. But you have to be humble and realistic: I've never won a three-week race, so I can't say I'm a favourite for the Tour.
"You have to climb the steps one by one, and in the grand tours, I still have a lot to improve upon. But I've only just turned 27 and as the years go by, my endurance is improving. So I still have hope of improving more and then maybe some day I can be in the fight."
Costa paid tribute to the role Movistar and its manager Eusebio Unzue had played in his career, and said that the emergence of Nairo Quintana, who finished second at the 2014 Tour and won the titles of best young rider and king of the mountains, was not a surprise. "We knew Nairo was a rider of high quality and sooner or later he was going to show his talent in a race like the Tour," he said.