Denis Menchov has never been one to wear his heart on his sleeve, but the austere Russian is downright excited about his switch from Rabobank to Geox for the 2011 campaign.
Menchov, who turns 33 in January, is leaving behind a solid six-season run at Rabobank that included two Vueltas and one Giro overall and his first Tour de France podium with third this year. So why leave? Menchov said the challenge of a new team will help him keep his motivation.
“My new team is very important,” Menchov told VeloNews. “I am right now content, new team, new motivation, new surroundings. This will help going into next season.”
Menchov, along with Carlos Sastre, is one of the top signings for Spanish-based team which landed a big-money sponsor with the Italian shoemaker, Geox.
With Rabobank centering more of its attention on budding Dutch star Robert Gesink, Menchov took the opportunity to change jerseys when Geox came calling.
Menchov says he’s not worried that the future of his new team, which has undergone turmoil since losing its title sponsor Saunier Duval in the wake of the 2008 Ricco-Piepoli doping scandals.
“I have confidence in Geox. It’s always the same with a new project, there’s always a question of unknown,” he continued. “But with Carlos and me, the directors, the structure of the team, we all have experience. We can do some important things. We can make a good team.”
Menchov will sit down with Geox brass in the coming weeks to decide a game plan for 2011, but at first glance, the Tour will remain his primary focus for the upcoming season. With third behind Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, the ever-steady Russian knows he’s getting closer to winning the Tour.
Depite the mountainous profile that might tip the favor toward Schleck and Contador (assuming the Spanish rider is there), Menchov said the Tour is unlike any other race.
“It’s a beautiful route for 2011. The Tour, it’s always difficult,” he said. “It’s more or less the same with the Tour — always hard. I like the balance between the Alps and the Pyrenees. There’s a lot less chrono this year, true, but the mountains always judge the Tour.”
Menchov said he takes confidence from his consistent 2010 Tour performance and believes he can be even better for next year. He was close to tipping over Contador and Schleck, but lost time on the Tourmalet and didn’t quite have the day he hoped for in the final time trial in Bordeaux. Still, he says third is closer to the ultimate goal — becoming the first Russian to win the Tour.
“I have been very close to the podium in the GC, so this year the podium was important. It’s more or less confirmation that I am doing things on the right way,” he continued. “It’s not a question of what place I finished, but how things went during the race and how I prepared for it. I know how to do it and how I can improve. I am optimistic for the future.”
Menchov suggested he will likely ride two grand tours. Lately, he seems to have done well after having one grand tour in his legs, though 2010 was the exception when he rode to third in the Tour but didn’t fight for contention in the Vuelta later in the season. So far, it’s likely he will do the Giro-Tour double, something he skipped this year because he didn’t want the pressure as defending champion at the Giro.
Sastre, meanwhile, is looking likely to race all three grand tours, like he did in 2010. Menchov doesn’t believe there will be conflict between him and the 2008 Tour champion for leadership of the team.
“We are not going compete, we will share,” he said. “I think we can do great races with the two of us in the race together.”
Editor’s Note: Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood’s covered every Tour since 1996 and has been VeloNews’ European correspondent since 2002. He lives in Leon, Spain, when he’s not chasing bike races.