Whither Denis Menchov?

The Dutch press have adopted Russian cyclist Denis Menchov as an honorary citizen. He is after all the leader of the only Dutch team participating in the Tour de France. Who else would we cheer for? So we cheer for the impassive Russian.

Menchov has won a couple of Grand Tours, which is impressive, but he has never won the one that counts the most, the Tour de France. That makes him a potential Gianni Bugno, but not a Michael Indurain. How far can Menchov go?

His demeanour during stages is not that of a true contender. Where other race leaders make their presence felt in the front of the pack, the Russian is always happy sitting somewhere in the back among the domestiques, the water carriers. Even in the last climbs of mountain stages, after the peloton has dwindled to a group of five or ten, he can often be found as the last of the first, in the spot from where it is hardest to react to attacks by others.

He does not look like a winner, even though he bikes faster than most other people on this blue marble.

The outcome of the 2010 Tour de France might as well have been scripted. The somewhat proactive Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, numbers one and two of the last edition, have been battling for the top spot, while Menchov has been plodding along in fourth. Seen from that angle the third place won by the Russian’s excellent time trial today seems a bonus, and it is greeted as such by both the national and international press, and by the man himself. Menchov even told Dutch television that he is well contented, because he is getting better each year.

But that perspective is false. The press already seem to have forgotten that the day before yesterday Menchov lost 1 minute and 40 seconds in the last climb, in which he looked more resigned and less attacking than ever. Could he have been in contention for the first spot today? Would he have looked like the Road Runner rather than Droopy if he had managed to counter the attack of the men before him? We will never know, and Menchov’s entire attitude will never provide us with a clue. The press’ conclusion that Menchov and his employers should be happy with his third place is based in expected narrative though, not in fact.

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