Denis Menchov, Russian cyclist of the Dutch Rabobank team, has won the Tour of Italy – the first major cycling tour in 2009. Danilo Di Luca ended up second, with fellow Italian Franco Pellizotti in third.
The Russian’s win is somewhat surprising. Menchov was always known as a decent all-round cyclist, but was often seen as someone who did not have the mental strength to finish it off, although a rival’s disqualification because of doping use did bring Menchov the 2007 Tour of Spain title.
Menchov was not considered the top favourite in this year’s edition of the Giro d’Italia. Kazakh team Astana brought an elite team headed by Levi Leipheimer, Yaroslav Popovich and the returned legend Lance Armstrong. All three performed well, but never came close to the final winner. Neither did another comeback kid, Ivan Basso. Out of competition for two years, the Italian did make it to a surprising good fifth place in the final ranking. The best Pole was Sylwester Szmyd, ending in 44th place an hour and a half behind the 2009 winner.
Menchov secured the lead after some convincing climbs in the first week, which he consolidated in the second week. He never lost sight of his direct rival Danilo Di Luca in the third and final week, leaving the Italian no other option but to challenge the Russian leader on the last day during the individual time trial. Although Danilo Di Luca did put up a fight and Menchov (as usual) lost his nerves and concentration and fell onto the Italian asphalt, Menchov remained 41 seconds in front of Di Luca, giving the Russian his second big tour win in his career.
Like many others, Menchov used the Tour of Italy as a preparation for the Tour de France. We therefore will see a lot of the competitors back on 4 July when the Tour de France starts in Monaco. Defending champion Carlos Sastre from Spain will be challenged by 2007 winner and fellow countryman Alberto Contador, seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and Michael Rogers.