- POSTED: 30 Sep 2013 00:25
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Alberto Rui Costa stunned Spanish rival Joaquin Rodriguez at the finish line of the world championships' road race to become the first Portuguese winner of the coveted rainbow jersey on Sunday.
FLORENCE, Italy: Alberto Rui Costa stunned Spanish rival Joaquin Rodriguez at the finish line of the world championships' road race to become the first Portuguese winner of the coveted rainbow jersey on Sunday.
Rodriguez took an unwelcome silver with compatriot Alejandro Valverde winning bronze at the end of the rain-hit 272.2-kilometre epic that claimed several pre-race favourites as well as the entire British team.
Rui Costa made his winning move in the final two kilometres of a pulsating finale, capitalising on Movistar teammate Valverde's failure to counter and then going on to pip Rodriguez at the finish line.
"This has been a big dream of mine for a long time. I still can't believe I'm the world champion," said Rui Costa, who broke down in tears on the podium.
"Two kilometres from the finish Rodriguez held a certain advantage but I still had to choose the right moment to make the jump and catch him, and then to try and outsprint him."
The 26-year-old Portuguese caught Rodriguez with less than 200 metres to go, at which point the Spanish climbing specialist employed the only remaining means, conversation, to overcome the Portuguese's faster finish on the flat.
"When I spoke to him, I was simply trying to make him move in front of me so that I could get in behind him," said Rodriguez. "But we know each other well, and I knew it wasn't going to happen."
A protagonist late in the final lap when he crucially countered an attack by Italian Vincenzo Nibali on the second of the circuit's three climbs, Rodriguez was understandably distraught at the end.
"Winning is all that matters so this medal doesn't mean anything to me right now," he added. "Alejandro and I have a lot of career wins but we've both missed out on winning the worlds."
Spain's failure to capitalise on their favourable scenario will cause reverberations, especially in light of a maiden triumph in one of cycling's biggest races of the year by neighbours Portugal.
Valverde and Rui Costa also race for the same professional team, Movistar, and the Spaniard is often a rival of Rodriguez's on the hilly one-day classics during the normal racing season.
Valverde, however, claimed he simply didn't have the legs when Rui Costa made a crucial move to close down Rodriguez on a "difficult" bend.
"I should have stayed on his wheel but he attacked on a difficult bend and I simply couldn't follow him. It's not easy after 270 km of racing," said Valverde.
It was Valverde's third road race bronze, having also missed out on victory in 2003 and 2005 when he took silver behind Igor Astarloa and Tom Boonen respectively.
"Obviously I would have preferred the gold medal but Rui Costa was too strong. I know him, he's a formidable rider," he added.
Nibali had to settle for fourth after valiantly fighting back from a crash after the descent of the first climb on the 10th and last lap of the race's hilly 16.9 km circuit around Florence.
Team manager Paolo Bettini, a former two-time world champion, heaped praise on the Giro d'Italia champion for fighting his way back - and said defeat was preferable to Spain's sucker-punch defeat.
"Without the fall it could have made the difference," said Bettini. "But Vincenzo really deserves credit for making it back to the main bunch. I really didn't expect it.
"In the end, we prefer to have the wooden spoon than to have suffered the kind of defeat Spain did."
Rui Costa, who won two stages at July's Tour de France as well as the Tour of Switzerland, succeeds Philippe Gilbert of Belgium as world champion.
Gilbert finished ninth, at 34secs adrift, and just ahead of pre-race favourite Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland.