Rui Costa is the new world road race champion.
The Portugese rider outsprinted Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez to pull on the famed rainbow jersey at the end of a rain-soaked 272km race in Florence.
Rodriguez’ Spanish team-mate, Alejandro Valverde, was third, after outsprinting home favourite, Vincenzo Nibali (Italy).
All of the British team retired long before the finish, with Geraint Thomas the last member of Team GB to abandon on lap five.
With 30km remaining and the rain in Florence finally stopped, Giovanni Visconti (Italy) and Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) led by a margin of 1.07 from a peloton containing many of the pre-race favourites, including Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway), Peter Sagan (Slovakia), Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), and defending champion, Philippe Gilbert (Belgium).
The German duo of Marcus Burghardt and John Degenkolb led up the climb of Via Salviati for the penultima time, after the two leaders had been swept up. Romain Bardet (France) attacked over the summit of the climb, but his move was checked by Italy’s Michele Scarponi.
Behind, Scarponi’s team-mate and pre-race favourite, Niabli, rejoined the contenders after chasing back from a crash.
As the riders sped into the final 20km on fast-drying roads, the peloton strung out behind Burghardt as the race finally sprung into life.
The Slovenian Jan Polanc led the riders across the line to begin the final lap, with Sagan, Boasson Hagen, and Rodriguez safely among an elite leading group.
Spain’s Jonathan Castroviejo continued an extended turn on the front as the bunch approached the final ascent of the climb to Fiesole.
Visconti made a final effort for his Italian team-mates on the lower slopes before pulling to the side of the road, as the teams riding for Grand Tour contenders did their best to neutralise the threat of the fast finishers.
Chris Anker Sorenson set the pace for the leader of his Danish team, Jacob Fuglsang, the seventh-placed finisher in this year’s Tour de France. The Danish duo was closely marked by a who’s who of contenders, which included Valverde, Costa, and the Colombian pair of Carlos Betancur and Sergio Henao.
Scarponi attacked in a final bid to make the quick men chase him down and use up energy that might be used to defeat Nibali. Rodriguez, sensing the danger, pursued Scarponi, but by doing so brought Nibali and Costa with him, creating and elite lead group.
Just 200m later, Niabli launched his first serious bid for victory. Rodriguez followed him and the pair eked out a lead of 200 metres, but were joined by their rivals.
Rodriquez attacked again over the summit in Fiesole, with Nibali the only rider strong enough to go with him. As they crested the summit, the pair had a lead of just five seconds.
A treacherous descent provided an ideal showcase of Niabli’s magnificent descending skills, but Rigoberto Uran (Colombia) crashed heavily, ending his chances. Up ahead, Rodriguez established a short gap over his rivals, including Nibali, who had been joined by Costa, Valverde, and the other contenders.
Rodriguez needed no second invitation to attack, and realising that any counter-move from Nibali would be covered by team-mate Valverde, pushed on towards Via Salviati.
Nibali urged the men around him to chase, but Valverde had no interest in assisting, and Costa was similarly unwilling.
The Italian led the chasing trio onto the slopes of the Via Salviati, while Rodriguez clung on to an ever decreasing advantage.
As the road flattened, and with Nibali displaying his usual tenacity, Rodriguez was caught, and a four-man group formed, with Spanish riders accounting for half of it.
Rodriguez, refusing to allow his chance of becoming world champion to end, attacked, but again it was Nibali who was forced to chase him down.
Amid deafening roars from the massed ranks of Italian supporters, Rodriguez attacked for a third time as the road went upwards, and for a third time, Nibali was forced to lead the pursuit.
With just two kilometres remaining, Purito had established a 40m gap, and Nibali backed off, perhaps hoping that Costa would take up the pursuit. Valverde clearly had no interest in doing so.
Costa finally responded and attempted to ride across the gap to Rodriguez. The Portugese rider’s relentless pursuit proved effective, and the pair briefly exchanged words as the catch was made.
Rodriguez led out the sprint, but was passed by Costa, while behind Valverde won the sprint from a disconsolate Nibali.
UCI world road race championship 2013 – result
1) Rui Costa (Portugal) – 7.25.44
2) Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) – ST
3) Alejandro Valverde (Spain) +16″
4) Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) – ST
5) Andriy Grivko (UKR) +31″
6) Peter Sagan (SLO) – ST
7) Simon Clarke (AUS)
8)Maxim Iglinsky (KAZ)
9) Philippe Gilbert (BEL)
10) Fabian Cancellara (SUI)