By Daniel Friebe
Denis Menchov is certainly no quote-machine, but, at the age of 30, the Russian thinks the time has come to sew his doubters' lips as tightly shut as his invariably are.
Thankfully for some, yellow jerseys aren't awarded for charisma. If they were, it's safe to say the only way five-time Tour winner Miguel Induráin could have got his hands one was by scouring eBay or mail order catalogues. The same, we're afraid to say, now applies to Russia's Denis Menchov…
Perhaps it's got something to do with Pamplona, the northern Spanish city that gave us Induráin (aka "The Bore de France"), and which Menchov has made his home since emigrating to Spain as an amateur. But the common ground isn't purely geographical; Menchov started his career with the Banesto team where Induráin once ruled, he's not totally unlike "Big Mig" in stature or riding style, his attacks are as rare as Induráin's once were, plus – as we've established – to call both men "monosyllabic" would be to overestimate their loquaciousness.
There is, though, also one crucial difference: Induráin did win those five Tours de France, while Menchov has yet to win even one. In fact, the 30 year-old has never really threatened to become Russia's first Tour champion, except briefly after a Pyrenean stage win in 2006, followed shortly afterwards by an unseemly collapse in the Alps.
Last year, Menchov's only mention in the same breath as the yellow jersey came amid rumours that he was one of the few individuals who knew where team-mate Michael Rasmussen was hiding in the build-up to the Tour. When Menchov finally quit the race on stage 17 – the day after Rasmussen's exit – his exhaustion was as much mental as it was physical.
With precedents like these, you might well ask why Menchov features in anyone's list of favourites this year. The answer resides partly in his two Vuelta a España wins, in 2005 and 2007, and partly in the fact that Menchov is one of the last men standing after the mass cull of cycling's stage race royalty that has taken place in recent years. Of the men who occupied the top 10 places at the end of the 2005 Tour, retirement, doping scandals and politics dictate that only two, Oscar Pereiro and Cadel Evans, are likely to be present in Brest on July 5.
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