While Alejandro Valverde and Luis León Sánchez were grabbing the headlines for Caisse d’Epargne this season, ProTour newcomer Rui Costa also made a significant mark in his first year with the Spanish squad. A season that should have been all about gaining experience ended with the young Portuguese being talked about as one of the sport’s biggest upcoming talents after he produced a number of hugely impressive performances. Chief among them was his overall victory in the Four Days of Dunkirk.
That success came on the back of an early-season programme set by Caisse d’Epargne boss Eusebio Unzue that took him to all of the spring classics. "I really enjoyed the experience and the opportunity that Eusebio gave me. I know the classics are too much for me at the moment but if I want to be in contention for them one day I have to learn somewhere," Costa, who only turned 23 in October, told Spanish paper Meta2Mil.
From the Classics, he moved on to Dunkirk. Second place in the stage 4 time trial gave him the lead, but this came under threat when David Le Lay attacked 4km from home the next day. "The team had protected me all day but when you’re attacked 4km from home you have to respond yourself. I had [Pierrick] Fédrigo on my wheel. I had to tell him that he either had to help me with the chase or I’d stop. He worked with me and we ended up catching Le Lay 300m from the finish. Fédrigo won the stage, I took second and that sealed my grip on the lead."
The Portuguese added, "The funny thing about that race was that every journalist there called me something different because of some confusion over my name: Rui Faria, Alberto da Costa, Faria da Costa… It’s much simpler: Rui Costa."
From there Costa went on to finish 13th in the Tour of Switzerland, which earned him a Tour debut. "But my form was already going and I started to suffer with the accumulation of fatigue," he admitted. Although he pulled out of the Tour on stage 12, he recognised that "riding all the classics and the Tour in my first year is something I wouldn’t have dreamed of".
He returned later in the year to win a stage and finish third overall in Mexico’s Tour of Chihuahua. Back in Europe, he completed a full set of starts in the five ‘monuments’ of the classics by lining up in the Tour of Lombardy. "That was my best day of the year. I was with the best riders until the last climb, but it’s normal that at such a young age you can’t last the pace."
Unsure yet whether he’s going to be a stage race or classics specialist, the 23-year-old says his goal for 2010 is "to race and improve in the major classics. We will have to wait to see what happens as far as major stage races are concerned. You need to be more physically mature than I am at the moment."
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