World champion Rui Costa will lead Lampre-Merida at the Tour de France in his debut season with the Italian team, they have confirmed.
The Portuguese ace joined from Movistar this winter, having agreed terms shortly before his victory in Florence, and his new team have revealed the varied programme which he will follow in his build-up to the Grand Depart in Yorkshire.
Costa, a three-time stage winner at the Tour – including two solo victories last year, will start his season at the inaugural Dubai Tour in February before joining his team in Mallorca, where they will compete in the Mallorca Challenge.
Bidding to ensure his year in the rainbow stripes does not fall victim to the supposed ‘curse of the world champion’, Costa will then compete at Paris-Nice and Liege-Bastogne-Liege before bidding for a third consecutive Tour de Suisse victory.
He will then roll out in Leeds as team leader for the 101st Tour de France, where he will compete with the likes of defending champion Chris Froome and 2013 Giro d’Italia winner Vincnenzo Nibali for the maillot jaune.
Merida’s director of sports marketing, Andreas Rottler, admits he is excited to have the world champion in their ranks but believes it will increase the pressure to perform.
He said: “It’s a dream come true to welcome Rui Costa on the team and have the honour to be the maker of the world champion’s bicycle in what is the brand’s second year in the pro peloton.
“Having the world champion in our team is something very special, but it also means that the pressure on the team is even higher as Rui will always be in the focus of attention.”
Also competing in fuscia and blue for the first time this year will be Costa’s compatriot Nelson Oliveira while Spanish climber Rafael Valls has also signed.
Former stagiaires Jan Polanc, of Slovenia, and Italians Niccolo Bonifazio and Valerio Conti have also signed professional terms for the new season.
Sacha Modolo, signed from Bardiani Valvove-CSF Inox, will boost the team’s sprinting options, while Xu Gang becomes the first Chinese cyclist to join the team.
Among the riders retained are sprint ace Roberto Ferrari, Milan-Torino winner Diego Ulissi and Poland’s Przemyslaw Niemiec, who finished third in back-to-back Giro stages last year.
On the make-up of the squad, Rottler added: “Our team for 2014 is a very good mix of both young and experienced riders that head into 2014 in high spirits.”