There was little fanfare when it was announced that Nélson Oliveira had signed from RadioShack to Lampre-Merida at the end of 2013. It was understandable. The Italian team's marquee signing was world champion Rui Costa and the fact that his compatriot Oliveira was linking up with the Italian squad flew under the radar.
Oliveira, though, was signed as Rui Costa's right-hand man. It's a role he carries on and off the bike. In races, he shepherds the world champion through the peloton, and off the bike he remains at his side too.
When journalists arrived at the Lampre hotel a few days after Amstel Gold Race to talk to Costa, Oliveira was there. Not in the forefront but he was present and taking coffee at the bar as his leader faced the questions.
"Each team is different but at the WorldTour level most things are roughly the same. The staff are great and the riders and the ambiance are good too," he told Cyclingnews, watching on as Rui Costa greeted the press.
"My manager helped me get here," he added. "Basically there was one Portuguese here with Rui and now there are two. So it means we can talk together in Portuguese, have a few jokes, and share some stories. But at the end of the day, I'm just happy here. I was happy at my last team too but this opportunity came up and I decided to take it."
Oliveira was a standout rider in the under-23 ranks, winning four national time trial championships at that level. He finished fourth in the under-23 Worlds time trial in 2010, behind a podium made up of Taylor Phinney, Luke Durbridge and Marcel Kittel, missing out on bronze by just four seconds.
His role for now, however – and both he and Rui Costa are on one year deals – is to protect and serve his teammate's needs.
"I raced with him at the U23 level in Portugal. He was at Benfica and I was just coming through the juniors and into U23. He was top though, and was always a winner, even back then.
"This year I'll race a lot with him. It's going to improve me as rider and make me stronger, especially mentally.
"It's different but it gives me motivation. I'm racing against the best but I have the world champion to watch out for. The team ask me to stay right by him, to be at his side. They want me to look after him, stay close, and bring him to the front when he needs it. If he needs a bottle, if he needs help I'll be there. Sometimes it's hard to stay with him, you know."
It may lead to a Tour de France debut for Oliveira, who has finished both the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España. "I hope so. We'll see. I'm on the long list but you never know."
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