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A momentary lapse of concentration is all it can take to end a race. Sometimes a rider touches a wheel absent-mindedly, sometimes taking the wrong line into a corner. For Adrien Costa it was a brief moment sucking down an energy gel towards the back of the peloton on Stage 2 of the Tour of Britain.
The resulting crash, caused by a wheel slipping over a reflector in the middle of the road, put a premature end to the latest installment in the Etixx-QuickStep stagiaire’s fast-progressing career.
“I was eating a gel and just relaxing at the back of the peloton before we hit the next climb,” Costa said at the start of Wednesday’s Stage 4 in Denbigh, Wales. “You lose your concentration for an instant and then, boom, you’re on the ground.”
Television cameras caught the crash, which saw the 19-year-old Californian hit the floor 60km from the finish of Stage 2, from Carlisle to Kendal in the north of England. Hitting the floor side on, Costa slid on his front before coming to a stop and sitting in the road.
In hindsight it was a miracle that he carried on to finish the stage, considering his injuries.
“The cuts were right down to the bone on my elbows and on my abdomen,” Costa said. Carry on he did though, and after a trip to the medical car he finished the rain-sodden hilly stage in 121st place, 23 minutes behind the day’s winner.
“When I fell it was not even a question of abandoning, and then when I heard that Julien [Vermote, Costa’s Etixx teammate] won I was still at 10km to go,” he recalled. “I was so happy to hear that. I really wanted to finish so I could be there and fight with the team over the next days.”
One of the brightest young talents in American cycling, Costa has spent the past season, his first at the U23 level, with Axeon Hagens Berman. The team is the latest iteration of Axel Merckx’s talent factory which has seen the likes of Taylor Phinney, Alex Dowsett, Lawson Craddock, and Joe Dombrowski pass through before turning professional.
Before the race start in Glasgow, Scotland, Costa was visibly thrilled to begin his apprenticeship with the Belgian team he spent a training camp with back in December 2015 — a relationship that came about through Costa’s NorCal roots, where team sponsor Specialized is based.
“I’m excited to just discover this whole new level of racing, so yeah I can’t wait for the start,” he said. “It’s been super fun with the guys and from here on I’m just trying to help, see what I can learn and yeah, have some fun.”
Two days later the fun was over as Costa was taken to the hospital after only his second race day with the team.
“It would’ve been too painful to clean and stitch the wounds while I was conscious, so I ended up waiting for almost 24 hours in the hospital for surgery,” Costa said on Wednesday.
As he stood outside the Etixx team bus, his tracksuit sleeves rolled up in order to accommodate the thick bandaging on his elbows, Costa lamented the road surface which caused his injuries.
“Unfortunately I think if I had been on a normal road it would’ve been just a normal road rash sort of a deal,” he said. “I would’ve been able to continue no problem, but it was a really gritty, heavy road, so obviously it cut me a lot deeper than normal.”
Costa was still smiling despite his disappointment, but said he was looking forward to watching his new team try and defend the race lead over the remainder of the race.
“Obviously I’m still here, but it’s not the same as being kitted up and being in the race and ready to defend yellow,” he said. “I have a doctor and soigneurs to look after me so hopefully I’ll watch these guys win the damn race.”
Thankfully for Costa and the team, his injuries won’t force an extended absence from competition, with three to five days the predicted healing time. “I just have to be careful with the bandaging,” he said. “But yeah I’m hoping to go for a spin soon, and we’ll go from there. Hopefully I have a couple of races next week so that will be nice.”
In the longer term, Costa will return to Axeon Hagens Berman for 2017 to continue his progress — this year has seen him win the Tour de Bretagne, finish second overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, and third overall at the Tour de l’Avenir, all at age 19.
“It’ll be good to stay one more year at U23 level — at least one more year,” he said, correcting himself. “It was super fun this year, and it was only my first as an U23, so there’s still time.”
Indeed there is and, despite his setback in Britain, Costa will soon be back in Etixx colors, at least for the next couple of months. And it won’t be a surprise if he’s in Etixx colors full-time one day — a day that looks like it will come sooner, rather than later.