The Vuelta a Espana did not turn out well for Rabobank: no one in the final top ten, no stage wins, and invisible for much of the race. “The final conclusion is not a happy one, but the disappointment is understandable,” said technical director Erik Breukink.
The Dutch team went into the race knowing that its two captains were vulnerable. Denis Menchov had a hard-fought Tour de France behind him, in which he had finished third overall. Sprinter Oscar Freire was recovering from nose and sinus surgery, which Breukink acknowledged was “necessary but not ideal”.
Menchov, who won the Vuelta in 2005 and 2007, lost all his chances when he crashed on the first mountain stage, injuring his knee. He felt better a few days later on the stage to Andorra, but was unable to keep up on the final climb, losing over five minutes. The team had done much of the chase work earlier in the stage, so the Russian's poor performance damaged the team morale.
Two Grand Tours in a row is just too much, according to Breukink. “The Vuelta is won by men who are fresh,” he said. “The top teams from the Tour are hardly seen here.”
While excuses were found for the captains, the same can't be said of their domestiques. In the last week of the race, “we tried too little. Were four riders who are leaving the team too many to have selected? Perhaps. Without looking to blame the riders, it is possible there was an unconscious psychological factor.” He continued, “I find it very disappointing that a few riders who had nothing to lose didn't attack in the last week.”
It was Menchov's last race for the Rabobank team, as he is leaving after six years for Geox. And although he finished only 41st overall, directeur sportif Adri van Houwelingen praised his performance. “I give him credit, he still tried in the last week.”
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