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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) became the first Russian since Pavel Tonkov to don the maglia rosa after his impressive performance in Thursday’s 60.6km time trial along the Cinque Terre.
The 31-year-old is already a winner of two editions of the Vuelta a España and takes a slender, 20-second lead to Levi Leipheimer (Astana) going into the decisive second half of the 2009 Giro d’Italia.
Menchov spoke to the assembled Giro media following his victory. Here are excerpts from the press conference:
Question: Were the time differences as you expected?
Denis Menchov: I expected more or less these differences to Di Luca. I knew he was in good condition. I was hoping it would possible I could get some more seconds of differences, but he was very strong.
Q: Is the Rabobank team strong enough to defend the jersey all the way to Rome?
DM: I think if you compare it with other teams, perhaps like a team like Liquigas, maybe we’re not as strong or as interested in this race. We have a team that’s improving and getting better and better. I think we have a better team than people realize.
Q: Do you fear the attacks that will come from your challengers?
DM: They have to attack, that’s normal. Leipheimer and Di Luca are the most dangerous, but there are others like Pellizotti, Basso and Sastre. They are riders with experience, you cannot count them out.
Q: You said you are on better form than last year, but did today’s performance exceed your expectations?
DM: I think that it’s true that I came here better than last year, but today was a great day without a doubt. It was more or less like I expected. I knew that when I am in good conditions, I am going better and better every day, I could fight for a victory in this stage and be in good position in the classification.
Q: You have the first pink jersey since Tonkov, what does it mean for you personally to have the maglia rosa and what does it signify for Russian cycling?
DM: It’s a great personal satisfaction to have the leader’s jersey, because my specialty is the big grand tours. I don’t necessarily have any special feelings to be the first Russian since Tonkov in the pink jersey, but for Russia it’s certainly important. It will give enthusiasm to the Russia cycling. It also exists.
Q: How did the crash of Pedro Horrillo crash affect the team?
DM: The big types of accidents always push you down a little bit; it affects you. It was a big shock. For Pedro, he’s important for the team. He’s experienced, he can always finish a grand tour. He’s an important piece of the team. Thankfully, it appears that everything has turned out OK for him and that he can recover as quickly as possible. That’s why I dedicated the pink jersey to him. We had a big scare and now Pedro will realize that we’re winning and we dedicate it to him. That will make him happy.
Q: You won two Vueltas, how will those victories help you here?
DM: Each one is different. Cycling is not a sport that is like mathematics. One day you put on the leader’s jersey, then a few days later you have a problem. You can never predict what’s going to happen. You have to just hang in there until the final, when you can have resolved everything and put it in its place.
Q: Is it better for you to ride defensively or to ride aggressively?
DM: Well, it’s always better to be in the lead. Now I have the experience. You have to take advantage of every situation. If you want to win this race, you have to look for opportunities. We are going to be aggressive when the opportunity is appropriate.
Q: Who do you fear most of your principal adversaries, Leipheimer or Di Luca?
DM: I have to say, with his experience in time trial, Levi was very dangerous today. For the rest of the Giro, with what he is demonstrating so far with his form and his motivation, perhaps Di Luca is the most dangerous. He’s a rider who can sprint, who looks for bonuses, perhaps he’s a little bit more dangerous.
Q: Are you improving your time trialing at the expense of losing it in the mountains?
DM: Every year I am better and better. I understand better how to race, because I am now 31. I have more experience, (not) because I have changed preparation, or that before I was a chrono man and now I am a climber. It’s been a steady progression. I’m a little bit better in everything each year, that’s why.
Q: Will Armstrong be a decisive worker for Leipheimer?
DM: I don’t have to fear that. It’s clear that Armstrong is a great rider and he has tremendous capacity. If he has to help Leiphemier in decisive moments, he will. Armstrong is very important for Levi, without a doubt. Everyone knows that.