Rui Costa played a crafty strategic game in the final lap of the 272 kilometre race, after five riders - Nibali, Valverde, Rodriguez, Colombian Rigoberto Urán and Costa himself - broke away from the front group of around 40 on the final ascent of the Fiesole climb. The quintet, after a constant war of attrition in the previous nine laps of the tough Fireneze circuit which had seen rider after rider abandon, was looking like the race winning move, but it was far from clear which of the five ahead would take top honours.
Whilst Urán was unlucky enough to crash on the fast drop back down into Firenze and lose all chance of disputing the win, bringing the front group down to four, Rodriguez almost simultaneously broke away with a speeding downhill attack to make a lone bid for gold.
The solo move could have worked out, with Valverde strongly defending his Spanish team-mate as he sat on Nibali’s wheel and forced the Italian to work, but Rui Costa, shadowing Valverde and Nibali and saving every ounce of energy possible, was looking better and better positioned.
After he was brought back by Nibali’s efforts to the group of three chasers - the Italian, Valverde and Rui Costa - shortly after the summit of the Via Salviati climb, the last on the circuit, Rodriguez broke away one more time with two kilometres to go.
For a moment, briefly, it looked as if the veteran Spaniard could have his country’s first elite men’s gold medal since Oscar Freire in 2004 in the bag, but when Rui Costa made his one attack really count and the Portuguese managed to break away from Nibali and Valverde and get across to Rodriguez, the race for gold was once again up in the air.
Rodriguez and Rui Costa fought a prolonged duel in the last 200 metres for the top place on the final podium of the 2013 Toscana Road World Championships, but in the end Rui Costa - with a lot more energy left in his legs - managed to out-power his rival. Valverde then easily outgunned an exhausted Nibali for bronze.
"Dream come true" for Rui Costa
"This is a dream come true. It's been a dream since I was a boy. It's like winning the lottery,” said Rui Costa, his country’s first ever gold medallist at Elite Men’s Road Race level and the winner of two Tour de France stages this summer as well as the Tour de Suisse in 2013 and 2012.
“I wanted this jersey more than anything. I'll do everything I can to honour it."
In the last two kilometres, he said “all I was thinking was to close the gap as efficiently as possible. I was trying to save energy for the sprint. We had a good gap so I could focus on that. It was a very hard World Championships, the rain this morning made it very tough. I had some bad moments but going into the final laps I started to believe I could do this.”
“The Spanish did a very good race, but the rider who did the race of his life was Rui Costa, because he won,” added Rodriguez, already a bronze medallist on a similarly tough course in 2009.
“We want to win, and to be so close, and not win, well, that’s not something to celebrate.”
“The corner where Rui attacked [with two kilometres to go] was complicated, and when he did get away, he quickly opened up a gap and after 270 kilometres, I simply couldn’t follow,” added Valverde, who now has five World Championships medals to his name, the most of any Spaniard in history - three silvers and two bronzes, one of which he took last year in Valkenberg.
“I'd like to get the gold, but if I didn't win, it's because I couldn't. When Costa attacked, I couldn't follow. I would have like to have won, but we have to be content to win silver and bronze.”
The Elite Men’s Road Race concludes the 2013 UCI Road World Championships with Holland at the top of the medals table with three golds. But the road-racing season has yet to be completed. UCI WorldTour racing now continues in Italy with Il Lombardia, the final Monument one-day Classic of 2013, next Sunday October 6th.
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