For all the entertainment and (hopefully drug-free) drama of this year’s Giro, I think the biggest revelation to come out of it was that Denis Menchov now has to be the favorite for this years Tour de France.
Sure, Menchov has won Grand Tours before, but the Vuelta is different. I’ve poetically referred to it as The Dreamers’ Race, since Laurent Jalabert, Tony Rominger, Sean Kelly and a host of other would-be Tour contenders wrapped up titles in Spain during their fruitless quest for victory on Cycling’s biggest stage.
Plus, Menchov’s Vuelta wins weren’t anything like this year’s Giro. in 2005, he claimed he title through a doping positive (as the race wrapped up in Madrid, he was five minutes down). 2007’s victory was a more conventional affair, but still, the lanky Russian had a sizable cushion over the rest of the field, and was essentially unchallenged from the 9th stage onward.
This is significant, because to this point, the Russian’s Grand Tour MO has been to keep it close in the mountains and and TT, before fading toward the end. But in this Giro, Menchov stayed strong and maintained a hair-thin lead through a rotating, non-stop series of assaults from 4 former Giro winners and the reigning TdF champ. Granted, no one with the recent palmares of an Alberto Contador—but then again, what has the reigning Giro/Vuelta champ done for us lately?
Then there was the fact that this Giro had but a single long TT. The course wasn’t textbook, but Menchov still put 20 seconds into Levi Leipheimer—the same Levi Leipheimer that put more than two minutes into Contador in his last TdF time trial. Though the ’09 Tour only has a single 44k TT, it comes toward the end, leaving only a short Ventoux stage for any potential time reclamation from the climbers.
While Menchov’s Giro win wasn’t dominant, it was remarkably consistent. Other than a few final-meter time losses, he ceded no real time in the mountains. He claimed to feel fresh at the end of it, and given his stage-winning pace when he hit a slippery section of cobbles inside the final kilometer, I’m inclined to believe him. It’s not world beating stuff, but it’s better than anything we’ve seen from the other contenders so far.