Costa hoping to end world champion reign on a high in Canada

Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) is hoping to end his reign as world champion on a high with a good performance at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Montreal on Friday and Sunday.

The likeable Portuguese rider is a regular visitor to the Canadian races, and the testing race circuits used in the two French-language speaking cities suit his excellent tactical ability. Costa is the first world champion to race in the rainbow jersey in the two one-day races and is the one of the big-name riders in action, alongside Tony Gallopin (Lotto Belisol), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Bauke Mollema (Belkin) andZdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).

Costa will share team leadership at Lampre-Merida with Chris Horner, who is returning to action in North America after being unable to defend his Vuelta a Espana crown due a low cortisol level sparking a MPCC-imposed break from racing.

"It's always good to come to Canada. I've won in Montreal in 2011 and was third in Quebec one year and I'm here in the world champion's jersey. It's very important for me and they'll be special races because they're some of my last as world champion this year," Costa said during the pre-race press conference in Quebec on Wednesday.

"I've also got lots of fans here and even friends in Montreal. They always support me warmly and that's always nice. These two races will be my last WorldTour races and then I'll also ride the Coppa Agostoni in Italy next week."

Costa won a stage and the overall classification at the Tour de Suisse but was forced to quit the Tour de France due to a bronchitis, ending his hopes of proving he can be a Grand Tour contender. He only returned to racing at the GP de Plouay at the end of August.

"It's never easy racing in the rainbow jersey, it's a huge responsibility," he admitted. "People are always watching for you and expect a lot from you. Your rivals also mark you closer in the races because they can spot the rainbow jersey. Of course it's good to wear the jersey and I've enjoyed my year as world champion. I didn't have a great year but the most important thing is that I gave my best and I think I took the chances I had. I'd hoped to do better during the Tour de France but I was hampered by a breathing problem."

Costa starts the Canadian races wearing number one but he named other riders as the ones to watch.

"It's difficult to say who will win because to be honest, because Plouay was my first race back after the Tour de France I haven't been able to analyse the form of my rivals," he said. "But I think Simon Gerrans or Greg van Avermaert could do well, or perhaps evan an outsider."

Costa out maneuvered Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez to win the world title in Florence last September. Due to his lack of racing, he played down his chances of taking a second consecutive rainbow jersey in Ponferrada.

"I don't honestly know if I can win again," he said. "Everyone wants to win the world title and there are always riders who have prepared especially for the race. It's a one-day race, so you need everything to go perfect and you also be lucky. It also depends on your rivals. There will be many riders hoping to win in Ponferrada and they're be very strong, so it's difficult to pick the favourites. I've worked pretty well and this races will help me prepare for the worlds, we'll see what happens on the day."

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