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Denis Menchov has never been a rider keen for a place in the limelight. Although the Russian has occasionally shown brilliant form on the bike, off it he exemplifies the description 'sky and retiring' perfectly.
But the recent doping case involving Roberto Heras has thrust Rabobank's Russian stage race specialist into the midst of the controversy. With Heras likely to receive a two-year after testing positive for EPO and be officially stripped of his victory in the Vuelta, Menchov will then be installed as his Dutch team's first-ever winner of a major tour.
Menchov has so far refused to pose in the Vuelta winner's gold jersey, but has offered Spanish daily AS some insight into his thoughts over recent weeks. Not too surprisingly, he said he isn't happy with the way the biggest success of his career has come to him. "There is a lot of difference between winning a race this way and winning it on the road. You can't compare the two. I still don't know what is eventually going to happen, but I believe it will be some time before the definitive conclusion to all this is reached," he said.
Admitting that he had been happy with his second place, especially bearing in mind the relative inexperience and weakness of his team at the race, Menchov said he "did not know how to react" when he heard the news of Heras's positive test, and said he was still mystified as to why Heras had been caught out on the penultimate day of a race he had effectively already won.
"I don't know what happened and I don't think anyone really knows. Well, obviously someone must know, but I don't think we will ever find out what the truth is, nor who the guilty parties are or if it is simply an error. It's all very strange," said the Russian.
Asked if he had ever had a similar problem, Menchov responded: "I'm going to touch wood. But no."
Always a difficult interview because he is so reticent about talking to anyone but his close family and friends, Menchov was slightly more effusive on the subject of his plans for the coming season, where his main target will be the Tour de France and then perhaps the Vuelta. He also said he would be interested in the possibility of a return to the Illes Balears team he left at the end of 2004.
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