An interview with Denis Menchov, August 27, 2005
Rabobank's Denis Menchov today confirmed the talent which brought him results such as the best young rider in the 2003 Tour de France and the overall classification of the 2004 Vuelta a Pais Vasco, winning the opening stage of the Vuelta a Espana in Granada. The 27 year old overhauled longtime race leader and prologue specialist Rik Verbrugghe (QuickStep) by a single second, with another dab hand against the clock, Brad McGee (FDJeux), taking third. Shane Stokes reports from Granada.
"I didn't expect to win this time trial," admitted Menchov after the stage. "I did badly in recent time trials. I knew I could do well, but I didn't expect to do quite as well as this!"
The Russian has come into this race hoping for redemption after a highly disappointing Tour de France campaign. He moved to the Rabobank squad over the winter with the intention of leading their charge in the Tour de France, and seemed to be on track when he took third overall in the Tour of Romandie. However, July was a different story. While teammate Michael Rasmussen was scrapping it out against the likes of Lance Armstrong and Ivan Basso, winning a stage and taking the king of the mountains jersey, Menchov was battling a throat infection. He performed well below his usual level in the mountains and eventually trailed home a weary 85th in Paris.
After today's stage, he told the press how he rebuilt things from that disappointment. "The Tour was very hard, but after the race I had week off in Russia. That helped my morale a lot, it was very good for me. I then worked hard to prepare for the Vuelta.
"The toughest part in the Tour de France was that I failed. But that doesn't affect me right now, in the Tour of Spain." Menchov had previously spoken to Dutch newspaper NRC before the race, telling them that, "A stage win would be nice, but I wouldn't exclude a good placing on GC either. But we'll see how it goes from day to day."
The pressure from the team management was reportedly higher after the Tour de France, as the young Russian has to prove himself as a leader. The requirement for results has been compounded by Oscar Freire's absence from the team line-up due to injury.
Despite the need to prove his worth, Menchov said today that he found the transition from Illes Balears to Rabobank as being pretty smooth. "Moving to the new team wasn't very difficult. Things were pretty much the same. I had the same goals. I kept on working as I did in the last few years, but this year I felt better in the time trials. However, I couldn't translate that into good results.
"Today showed what I can do. I think this improvement is down to me, not to the change in the teams. I don't think I have necessarily got more skilled at time trials; what has happened is that I have improved all round as a rider. I have got stronger on all types of terrain."
After the stage, the inevitable question was if Menchov considers himself a contender for overall victory. He was quick to point out that it was too soon to think of such things. "Right now, I am a long way from that point. I will just take this race, and the lead, on a day-by-day basis. The team will keep working and help me. There is still a lot of the race left so if we lose the jersey, that is okay. I trust my team and we will do our best."
While he may do well overall, Menchov feels that others have a better chance of final victory. "My favourites are Mancebo, González, Mayo, Simoni and, of course, Roberto Heras," he said. The latter two highlighted their own good form today with top ten results but even if they finish ahead of him in Madrid, this prologue result suggests he is back on track.