After seeing his lead cut to just fourteen seconds the previous day, Rui Costa (Movistar) responded in magnificent fashion on the final stage of the Tour de Suisse on Sunday to seal final overall victory.
With three mountains and 218 kilometres to cover on the arduous road from Näfels-Lintharena to Sörenberg, the Portuguese rider faced one of the toughest tests of his career in the Swiss Alps, but he had both the tactical acumen and the physical strength to repel the challenge of Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) and win the prestigious race.
The most difficult moment for Rui Costa came on the penultimate climb of the day, the mighty Glaubenberg, as Schleck launched his anticipated attack. By the summit, the Luxembourger had a lead of a minute and it seemed as though he was set to take Costa’s jersey, but the Movistar man successfully gave chase on the descent with the help of his teammate Alejandro Valverde, and all the contenders reached the foot of the final climb together.
Even so, with a lead of just 14 seconds, the race was far from over, and Costa needed to be vigilant all the way to the finish at Sörenberg. Once again, his teammate Valverde played a starring role on the final climb to the line. The wily Spaniard set the pace in the yellow jersey group almost all the way to the finish, discouraging any big changes in pace and setting a tempo ideally suited to Costa’s characteristics.
“I dedicate the win to the whole team because they did a great job for me all week,” said Costa. “Alejandro was fundamental to my victory because the race was very crazy, but he did an incredible job. I owe my jersey to him.”
While Rui Costa is correct to highlight the work of men like Valverde and Marzio Bruseghin, his own efforts throughout the race should not go unheralded. Costa won the opening road stage and defended his overall lead for a whole week, a difficult proposition given the quality of the opposition in Switzerland.
And on Sunday, in spite of Valverde’s fine work, Costa could only rely on himself in the final two kilometres when the group of favourites began to fragment. He proved equal to the task, and safely crossed the finish line alongside Schleck and third-placed Levi Leipheimer to seal the overall victory.
“Along with my stage victory at the Tour de France last year, this is the biggest win of my career. I can enjoy it all the more because we had to fight so hard to win,” said a delighted Rui Costa afterwards.
“I’m thrilled to have finished off our week’s work with the win. I had a bad day yesterday because I was still tired from the time trial, but I recovered well today.”
Indeed, it was a day of double celebration for Selle Italia riders – not only did Rui Costa take overall victory, but Tanel Kangert (Astana) was the stage winner. The talented Estonian was part of the day’s early breakaway, and he had the strength of body to follow Jérémy Roy’s acceleration on the final climb, as well as the strength of nerve to beat him in the sprint.