Rui Costa showed off his new rainbow jersey and his special Pinarello bike on the eve of Il Lombardia, clearly proud to be the new elite men's road world champion and happy to sign autographs and pose for photographs for some Italian tifosi who discovered where Movistar was staying the night before the race.
Costa was already a successful rider with back-to-back victories at the Tour de Suisse and two stage victories at this year's Tour de France. But now he is world champion and will wear the rainbow jersey for the next 12 months.
The 27-year-old from Povoa de Varzim, near Porto in northern Portugal, is laid back, friendly and down to earth but knows his cycling career and life has changed forever after his victory in Florence.
"Winning the world title is such a big thing that for sure it's changed my life in a big way," he told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview.
"I'd dreamed about it as a boy but going from dreaming about it to it coming true is incredible. I never really thought I'd be world champion but now I am. It's a great feeling.
"I know I've made history by being the first Portuguese world champion. That makes it special and also puts a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I just hope the jersey gives me the strength to do well in the future while allowing me to stay the way I am, just a normal person."
Costa has yet to return home to Portugal, preferring to stay focused for Il Lombardia at his home in Zurich, Switzerland. However, he had time to celebrate and watch some of the race highlights on television.
"I've seen the final kilometres of the race and it was very emotional to watch it," he said.
"It was very moving to see myself win the world title. I was especially emotional when I stood on the podium in the rainbow jersey singing the Portuguese national anthem. For me that was the high point of the whole day."
An intelligent mind
Costa out-foxed Joaquim Rodriguez, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde to win the world title, with another display of intelligent riding.
The hilly course suited him but he avoided the pressure of being a pre-race favourite but ensured he was in the select group that formed on the final descent from Fiesole. He then cleverly avoided doing massive turns on the front to help Nibali chase down Rodriguez.
"People have said I race intelligently and that's nice to hear. I hope it's true," he said.
"During the last lap of the world championships I knew it was important to stay with the strongest guys, riders like Nibali, Rodriguez and Valverde. I felt okay but I was suffering and had to really hang on the hardest part of the course, the short climb of Via Salviati. I thought it'd be difficult to win but never gave up. I think things went my way but I also made them happen."
He used his strength to make things happen with one decisive attack, going through the corners of the railway bridge three kilometres from the finish at speed and suddenly opening a gap. It was the perfect place to make a move and go 'all in' and put his cards on the table. Diving through the corners helped him get a gap and he had just enough time to get across to Rodriguez before winning the sprint and the world title. It was perfect execution.
"It wasn't a studied attack, it just happened in that moment. I followed my instinct," he said.
"I knew I had to go at the moment so that I'd have enough time to get across to Purito and then beat him in the sprint. I think instinct is important in cycling and I race that way, listening to what I think is the right way to race. Of course you need good legs to win, you can be very smart but you don't win if you do not have the legs too. I had both at the world championships."
Costa will no doubt irritate the traditionalists by deciding to match white shorts with his rainbow jersey. He laughed at the thought of getting wet in the rain forecast for Sunday in northern Italy but cannot wait to race in the rainbow jersey as world champion.
He also wears a blue Bike Pure wristband, which stands out for its colour and significance. It is a tangible sign he is against doping.
"It's something important for me," he said, ensuring the blue wristband was clearly in sight during several photos shot for French newspaper L'Equipe.
"I know that being world champion carries a lot of responsibility. I hope to do as well as possible and win while wearing this jersey but I also want to earn respect for the rider I am."
He will wear race number 141 in the final Monument of the season and has a good chance of victory along with his Movistar teammates Alejandro Valverde, Giovanni Visconti and Nairo Quintana.
"It's going to be great a feeling to race in the rainbow jersey for the first time at Lombardia. The world of cycling will be there and I'll be riding as the new world champion. Wow." he said with a smile
"We've got a great chance of victory because we've got such a strong team. I'm not sure of my chances but for sure I want to honour the rainbow jersey as my very first race world champion."
Costa will also ride the Tour of Beijing, almost certainly his last race with Movistar before joining Lampre-Merida in 2014. Some people are surprised at his decision to leave the only Spanish WorldTour team for the troubled Italian team. However Portugal is an important market for Lampre and Costa knows he will have clear team leadership for the Tour de France and space to ride for himself in other key races such as the Ardennes Classics.
"A lot of people have asked me why I decided to join Lampre-Merida but it was a simple choice. It 's a team that is perfect for me," he explained to Cyclingnews.
"I'll be able to ride the races that I like as team leader and with time to develop. That includes the Tour de France, which is very important to me. I really like the Tour and want to test myself over three weeks. I think I can do something. I'm not saying I can win it, I've too much respect for our sport and for the Tour to say that now, but I'd like to try in the future.
"I like to live by taking one step at a time, live one day at a time but I know I can win hilly one-day Classics and week-long stages races. So maybe in the future I can go for the general classification in Grand Tours. We'll see if it's possible year by year in the next few years, after this special year as world champion."
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