Invisible man Denis Menchov is once again in a threatening position in a Grand Tour as he lies in fourteenth position overall at the Vuelta a España, just 1:11 behind race leader Philippe Gilbert. The Russian had ridden discreetly on both uphill stage finishes in Malaga and Valdepeñas de Jaén but stayed close to the front on each occasion.
“It was a good result for me,” Menchov told Cyclingnews before the start of stage 5 in Guadix. “It was the first difficult stage and the finale was really not suited to me. I’m not explosive enough for such hilltop finishes. I’m also not in my best shape yet as I didn’t race at all between the Tour and the Vuelta. But the most important thing will be to perform during the second week.”
Having won the Vuelta a España twice, in 2005 and 2007, and the Giro d’Italia last year, Denis Menchov is a natural favourite for the Spanish Grand Tour, especially in the wake of his third place at the Tour de France behind Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck.
After the Tour de France Menchov went to his Russian hometown of Orel to visit his family and while he was there he experienced the high temperatures that badly affected central Europe in August. As a result he wasn’t put out by the 45°C the riders experienced in Sevilla prior to starting the 65th Vuelta a España.
Menchov feels at home when riding in Spain, a country in which he has lived since 1999 when he joined the Banesto amateur team. The following year he turned professional with the legendary Pamplona-based outfit. When he decided to leave his current team Rabobank, Menchov considered returning to Eusebio Unzue’s organisation, which will operate as Movistar next year, but eventually opted for Mauro Gianetti’s project with Geox.
“I’ll take this Vuelta day by day”, Menchov added. “[Stage 11 to] Andorra will be the real start of the race. If I can do something on GC, I’ll know it in Andorra. I want to be strong there.”
There is also another Russian to watch in this Vuelta. Vladimir Gusev is riding his first Grand Tour since the 2008 Giro d’Italia after which he was fired by the Astana team, run at the time by Johan Bruyneel, after allegedly showing abnormal values during an internal doping check. After a long legal battle, CAS cleared him of the doping accusation and ordered the Kazakh team to compensate him over €800.000 in unpaid wages and damages.
During this parenthesis in his career, Gusev’s family grew. Like Menchov, he also lives in Spain, and so he expects to see his wife Natalia, 3-year-old daughter Diana and 1-year-old son Leonardo when stage 9 of the Vuelta starts in Calpe, close to where they live. A third child is due in November.
“They came with me to my altitude training camps in Livigno in Italy”, the Russian time trial champion told Cyclingnews. “I spent a total of 34 days training up there in a period of two month, before and after the Tour of Poland. I would have liked to ride the Tour de France but I joined Katusha in April after they had already given the list of fifteen potential riders.
“Since I haven’t raced much yet, I knew I’d struggle a bit at the beginning of the Vuelta”, said the 28-year-old from Nijni-Novgorod. Gusev is currently 30th overall, 2:54 down on Gilbert. “But I’m hoping to move up,” he said. “Joaquin [Rodriguez] and myself are the two Katusha riders protected for the overall classification.”