The forgotten man: Menchov poised as Tour de France dark horse
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Saturday, July 07, 2012

The forgotten man: Menchov poised as Tour de France dark horse

by Shane Stokes at 10:23 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Russian’s challenge to become clearer today

Denis MenchovFew have spoken about Denis Menchov thus far as a Tour contender but the Russian rider is perfectly placed to strike in the days ahead. The triple Grand Tour winner began today’s stage fifth overall, just thirteen seconds off the race lead, and one of those who could take over the Maillot Jaune this afternoon.

Menchov has been largely forgotten about, with last year’s winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) regarded as the main favourites, and others such as Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas Cannondale) being mentioned as alternative challengers.

The reason is most likely because Menchov has had a very quiet season of late, although he felt his preparation for the Tour was going to plan.

Given that he is both a strong climber and a good time trialist, and because the latter will be a hugely important skill this year due to over 100 kilometres against the clock, the Russian is a big threat. He won the Vuelta a España in 2005 and 2007, and took the Giro d’Italia in 2009.

As for the Tour, he’s shown steady progression in even years; fifth in 2006, third in 2008, second in 2010. If he’s superstitious as some riders are, he’ll look at that progression and be encouraged.

One thing seems clear: he’s not bothered by the fact that he’s got little press attention this year, according to directeur sportif Valerio Piva. “It suits us fine to go unnoticed. You can prepare more easily, without any pressure from the media,” he told Reuters yesterday.

“Everybody’s talking about (Australian Cadel) Evans, and rightly so because he’s the defending champion, and about (Briton Bradley) Wiggins, who’s the in-form guy. But Denis is not far behind and with his experience, knows how to handle a race like the Tour. It’s his 11th Tour, he knows what he’s doing.

“If people look down on him a little in spite of his record, it’s because of his personality. He’s a withdrawn man. But he’s getting old and he knows he won’t have many more chances to win the Tour. It might well be his year.”

The 34 year old Katusha rider recently became the Russian time trial champion and feels that he’s in perfect shape. Today’s final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles is short but ferociously steep in places, and will be the perfect gauge of his form.

Piva said that the team is motivated by how Menchov performed in the prologue, and keen to see how he fares today. “La Planche des Belles Filles is the first test for sure,” he said.

If it goes well, he'll quickly find himself on the radar of a media which has, until now, focussed on others.

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