This year, Costa will assume the role as team leader for the first time at a grand tour, after spending several years as a domestique at Movistar. “Given his qualities, he can certainly finish in the top positions in the ranking,” Saronni told Portuguese sports daily O Jogo.
“Rui has never had the opportunity to ride the Tour with the objective of the general (classification) and having a team at his disposal. A result in top three is an ambitious, elusive target, but we'll see what Rui can do. The team has great confidence in him.”
Despite having to work for others in the past, Costa’s talent has shone through with three stage wins at the Tour de France and the GC at the 2012 & ‘13 Tours de Suisse.
If the Portuguese rider hadn’t already proved himself as a rider to be reckoned with, he went on to outsmart his more decorated rivals to become World Champion.
Costa was yet to earn his rainbow stripes when he signed with Lampre-Merida. However, Saronni was still convinced of the 27-year-old’s capabilities, when he approached him in the summer of 2013. “Rui is a big athlete with amazing talent for cycling, so we had no doubt about his recruitment. So far, I see no fault in him as a cyclist. He is a very complete rider and a very intelligent person,” he explains.
“In Italy, we say that he is a person with his head on his shoulders. He is a very smart lad, polite and knows how to behave and what to do to achieve the objectives. The relationship we have established is optimal. He is a runner who deserves the joys that are living and may have even more success in the future.”
Costa’s move to Lampre, was nothing less than surprising. The Italian team are far from their heyday, when they were regularly winning grand tour stages and big classics. The demise of their lead riders, such as Damiano Cunego and Michele Scarponi, have left them directionless.
Although the team signed Chris Horner in January, Costa will enjoy much more freedom in his calendar in his new team.
Saronni admitted that there was another key factor in taking on Costa, Lampre’s factory in Portugal. As the new World Champion, his arrival will bring a lot of good publicity to the team. With 25 riders and staff, including Saronni and Cunego, under suspicion in the Mantova doping investigation, this can only bee a good thing.
Costa began his season at the Dubai Tour, where he showed his new kit on stage three, when he went on the attack. He finished 15th overall and has now returned to Europe to take part in the Mallorca Challenge this week.