By Shane Stokes in Nantes, France
Last year's Vuelta a España winner Denis Menchov came to the Tour de France hoping to improve on his sixth place in 2006. However the Russian lost time to the other general classification winners when the peloton split towards the end of the stage to Nantes. He finished 38" behind the Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) group, which was itself 2'03" adrift of the stage winner Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Will Frischkorn (Garmin Chipotle) and the new yellow jersey, Romain Feillu (Cofidis).
Menchov had talked briefly to journalists at the start of the stage, and was asked then if victory in the stage four time trial was possible. "It is important for everybody," he said. "I don't know if I can win it, it is hard to say.
"For me, the most important thing is to do it well against the other GC contenders, as for sure there are other riders who are specialists in time trials," he added.
It was put to him that if he won the test, he could well find himself in the yellow jersey. "If that happened, it would be a good sign to get it early…but there are many tough stages to come," he said.
Menchov is still in with a chance of the victory, but losing so much time on Stage 3 makes it unlikely that he could take the maillot jaune on Tuesday. His general classification chances are not over, by any means; however he'll need to ride well then and in the first mountain stages to get back on terms with the other race favourites.
Fortunately Menchov seems happy enough with his form. "I am feeling okay," he said. "Normally I ride well in the second Grand Tour [of a season]."
Several other big names also finished in the Menchov group, amongst them Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval), Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Tour de Suisse winner Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) and AG2R La Mondiale's general classification hope Cyril Dessel. Riccò is not known for having a particularly charismatic nature, although it's understandable why he wasn't in the best of spirits at the end.
When asked his reaction to losing time, he played down the significance of that. "Perhaps you journalists don't understand that I am not here to work for the classification," he snapped. When it was pointed out that Saunier Duval were chasing hard at the head of his group, he claimed it was for team-mate Juan Jose Cobo.
Menchov's general classification rival Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) was happy to learn of the buffer created on Stage 3. "Any seconds you can gain in this period, or rather not lose any, is always the idea of this first week," said Evans. "All day blowing crosswinds like crazy then finally Quick Step took the initiative to split it. That was an advantage to Devolder of course but also an advantage for us."