Having ridden for Spanish and Dutch squads throughout his career Denis Menchov (Katusha) has finally returned to mother Russia, signing with Igor Makarov’s super-team. Despite his veteran status, Menchov believes he can win the Tour de France.
The 33-year-old has finished third on two occasions and has three grand tour titles in his back pocket – bar Alberto Contador he’s the most decorated three-week rider in the peloton and after a turbulent year with Geox he is eager to get back to the Tour de France. In 2011 Geox were left out of the race, with Menchov having to head to the Giro and Vuelta.
Menchov’s homecoming to Katusha almost happened at end of 2010 when the rider was allowed to leave Rabobank. The Dutch team were keen to promote youth, in particular the promising Robert Gesink who was waiting in the wings. However, contract negotiations took a turn for the worse with Katusha’s Andre Tchmil and the rider trading public blow in the press. Tchmil has since moved on, which helped pave the way for Menchov to sign.
“At the moment everything is going well and there’s a comfortable atmosphere on the team,” Menchov told Cyclingnews.
“I’m really happy to be on the team. I was hoping to be here two or three years ago but the main thing is that I’m here now. Because of some circumstances it wasn’t possible that I could come earlier, it’s difficult to say why but there were some certain misunderstanding between myself and Andre Tchmil, but now with the new management things were clear.”
“It was a logical step in my career to come here and for Russian cycling. Back home this is a very big team and I’m the best GC rider from the country so it’s logical that I’m here.”
Despite finishing in the top ten in both the Giro and Vuelta last year, Menchov missed out on the Tour, but the 2012 route suits his talents and with Katusha automatically invited due to their WorldTour status he is eager to make up for the lost ride in 2011.
“This year my main goal is the Tour de France. The route, it suits me, with the more time trial kilometres,” he said.
In 2010 Tour Menchov finished third but he rarely troubled the pair of Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, and his main battle was between himself and Samuel Sanchez for the final podium spot.
“I always think about the win and I think that it’s in my capacity. I’ve won big tours in my career and I was really close to the first place at the Tour. In my last Tour in 2010 it was really the first time I saw that winning was a possibility. I have that experience and I hope I can improve.”
“I know my goals and I like the big tours. In the last few years I’ve done big tours and I’ve been on a good level. Last year, that was a strange year for me and the team. I don’t think I lost a year at Geox though. It was a new experience and sometimes in life you don’t do the right things and you don’t make the right choices but it’s all experience for the future.”
Geox were undoubtedly a failure. Off the bike the team had troubles with its UCI licence, and kit failed to arrive in the new year, leading to riders training in all black lycra. Menchov was quick to point out when he realised he’d made a mistake in signing.
“From the beginning I took a decision to choose a new team and a new suitor and at that moment it was the right choice. It didn’t turn out that well.”
“The first impression was very important and how we started. We didn’t have a licence, there was problems with some sponsors, some of the management and we were told that everything would come later, later.”
Menchov’s programme with Katusha will include Paris-Nice, Tour of Cataluña and the Dauphine ahead of the Tour and while he sees himself as a contender he acknowledged that should Alberto Contador start the race the Spaniard will be the favourite.
“I think it’s possible I can beat him. Of course. We know he’s one of the best but two years ago I saw some things that made me think I can win the Tour. Maybe he’s not as strong now in the time trials and he’s human after all. If he starts, he’s favourite though.”