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Rating the Tour de France favorites, from W(iggins) to Z

Denis Menchov (RUS), Katusha ★★★

No stranger to the Tour de France podium, having looked over the Champs-Élysées on the podium steps in 2008 and 2010, and as the best young rider in 2003, Denis Menchov is a strong contender for the Tour title.

The Russian captain of a Russian team has his sights on a grand tour hat trick; Menchov has a Giro d’Italia overall title and two wins in the Vuelta a España on his palmarès.

Winning the Tour would round out Menchov’s career, making him just the sixth rider with titles in all three grand tours.

“In my career I’ve won just about everything else except the Tour,” Menchov said at the beginning of the season. “I’ve been close a couple of times, reached the podium… but you always dream of getting to the top. Having that yellow jersey is what really matters.”

A superb time trialist, if ever there was a year for Menchov to win the Tour de France, it’s this one. Menchov should be able to put time into GC contenders like Fränk Schleck and Samuel Sánchez against the clock. The question is whether his strength in the TT is sufficient for him to take the title from Wiggins or Evans.

Menchov’s tactics are primarily reactionary, which may prove advantageous against the more explosive climbers. When he’s on, Menchov inhabits the interesting middle ground of being able to out-climb the time trialists and out-TT the climbers. He said earlier this year that his exclusion from the race last year, when riding for Geox-TMC, may also improve his tactical understanding of the race.

“I had a chance to watch the race from the outside, analyze it,” he said during the Katusha team presentation. “It has given me a different perspective on the race. Not being part of the Tour last year definitely made me more determined to try to win it.”

What Menchov lacks, however, is team strength. He will have strongmen like Vladimir Gusev and riders for the mountains like Luca Paolini, but overall the Katusha squad is lacking the firepower to fully support an overall winner. That said, Menchov has throughout his career acted as something of a free agent — the wildcard to Michael Rasmussen at Rabobank and in 2010, a top-10 finisher at the Giro with Geox.

In terms of his form, Menchov’s presence at the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Romandie was negligible and included a DNF. But the Russian has a history of coming out of nowhere at the right time. The time to be right is now, but Menchov is an outside favorite at best to deliver on Katusha’s aim for a Russian Tour champion.

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