Denis Menchov's second place in the Vuelta a España marked the first time that a Rabobank rider has...
Denis Menchov's second place in the Vuelta a España marked the first time that a Rabobank rider has finished on the podium in a Grand Tour. Michael Boogerd's fifth place in the 1998 Tour de France was the previous best by a Rabo rider. Menchov lost the Vuelta to a superior Roberto Heras, who wrested the lead from the Russian during the 15th stage to Valgrande Pajares and never even looked like surrendering it in the final week. But Menchov could still be satisfied with his podium spot, especially after bronchitis hindered him from riding a good Tour de France.
"Maybe after the weekend, it will sink into everyone that we have achieved a top performance here," said Rabobank's team director Adri van Houwelingen on the team's website. "With not all that strong of a team, without helpers with climber's qualities, and with a team that kept getting smaller. But certainly with an exceptional talent, because that's what Denis is."
Menchov defended his team from criticism that it was too weak, with the riders calling him 'Denis without team'. "The help was there, but not for the whole stage," said Menchov. Also, Rabobank wasn't particularly "visible" to the general public in the tougher stages, because the TV coverage only started at 4:00pm, and most of the riders had done their work and been dropped.
Van Houwelingen accepted the criticism, but pointed out, "We deliberately sent this team to Spain. Rabobank has to achieve top performances for the whole year. Many Spanish teams that were here, only aim at the Vuelta. You have to take that into account. It's unfortunate, but Denis Menchov also was completely in accord with the make up of the team. He really wanted to make up for his Tour here. It was his choice and it worked out great."
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