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With the rainbow jersey comes more weight, expectations for Costa

YANQING, China (VN) — Rui Costa (Movistar) is living a dream being cycling’s new world champion. The Portuguese rider led up the Muro di Sormano in the Giro di Lombardia last week and yesterday, he zipped down a mountain pass in pursuit of the win in the Tour of Beijing.

Costa is doing what he has loved doing since he was 12 years old, only now he wears all-white with colored-in rainbow stripes as the world champion and has the weight of expectation.

“Sometimes I know the rainbow’s there and sometimes not,” Costa told VeloNews on a foggy morning north of Beijing. “It wasn’t long ago that I won the world championships. It’s still difficult to believe because I dreamt about it and now I’m world champion. Some days, I wake and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m world champion.’ But other days, I just get up thinking like a normal guy.”

Costa hardly looks normal compared to his teammates in Movistar’s blue and green kit. In the Tour of Beijing yesterday, he started with the normal long-sleeved jersey of world champion with matching white leg warmers, gloves, helmet, shoes, and bike — all marked with that distinctive UCI five-color rainbow.

He remembered first seeing those colored bands in 1998 or 1999, when Oscar Camenzind and Oscar Freire won. He had just begun cycling on home roads north of Porto.

“My family didn’t have cycling in its blood but we always rode and used bicycles,” Costa said. “We were always interested in cycling, watching it on TV and sometimes going to see some races.”

He turned professional in 2007 but his life changed in the last couple of years with his three Tour de France stage wins, one in 2011 and two this year, and of course his worlds victory in Florence, Italy. Now he has those distinctive rainbow stripes coloring an all-white kit and he has a new contract, as he will ride for Lampre-Merida instead of Movistar next year.

“I’ll try to stay the same rider that I am now and as before,” Costa said. “I’ll try my best like I’ve always done in the last years.”

There’s an indication that the pressure could increase. Lampre’s general manager Giuseppe Saronni already said he plans to take Costa to the 2014 Tour de France as a GC contender.

“Of course, I want to participate in the Tour but for now, it’s just to see how high I can work my way up in the classification but not for the win,” Costa explained. “I’ll decide as I go, day by day, but I won’t chance my preparation, almost doing the same race schedule as I did this year. I’ll do the same, the same altitude and training camps, I’ll do exactly the same.”

Costa raced the Ardennes Classics and won the Tour de Suisse before traveling to the French tour. It may be the same for next year but followers are expecting much more.

“I’ve already progressed a lot. I don’t know if I can go better or not,” he said. “I’ll just try my best, and then we’ll see. This year was already much more than I expected.”