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Menchov makes a move

Denis Menchov mauled his rivals good and proper to win Thursday’s crucial 12th stage time trials in the Giro d’Italia.

Not only did he win the 60.6-kilometre trial, he also grabbed the coveted maglia rosa jersey of the overall tour leader

The Russian rider from Rabobank began the day 1min 10sec behind overnight leader Danilo Di Luca and expected to go well having forewarned Cyclingnews, ‘You have to be in top condition for that one special day, even if it is not really a day for specialists.’

The steep nature of this time trial has never been seen in modern Giro d’Italia history but the 31-year-old, two-time Vuelta a Espa├▒a champion showed his condition was indeed at a peak of the remaining 187 riders, the fastest after 18.6, 34.5, 44.5 kilometres, and, of course, by the finish.

‘I’m a big tour rider, so it’s very important to have the maglia rosa. It’s a great personal satisfaction, and it’s good for Russian cycling,’ said Menchov.

‘I knew the time gaps were going to be close between the best riders [after the time trial] because Di Luca is in very good condition. I thought I’d have the [pink] jersey by a few seconds,’ he said, 40 seconds separating the current top three on the classifica generale – although from 4th to 10th, the gaps are wider, ranging from Liquigas’ Franco Pellizzotti at 2:00 to Thomas L├Âvkvist of Team Columbia-High Road, 5:53 in arrears.

‘It’s true, I came here better than last year. But even though today was a great day, it was more or less what I expected,’ Menchov told Cyclingnews.

It appears we have a maglia rosa quietly confident.

Is he, like many describe his pink-suited predecessor Di Luca, a cold-blooded killer? Is he out for blood in this Giro, Cyclingnews asked him a few days ago? ‘Am I dangerous?” said Menchov rhetorically. ‘I think I am a simple person, just a cyclist and not so dangerous,”‘he said, smiling.

Perhaps smiling at the thought of being an assassin in another life, a profession he’d probably excel in. Because the way things stand now and with nine stages to Rome, Menchov is very dangerous indeed. Perilous, even.

Only 20 seconds behind the Russian juggernaut, one can say Astana’s Levi Leipheimer is more than just a contender for the 2009 Giro. The 35-year-old from Santa Rosa, California is now a favourite – not the favourite, but a favourite.

‘Twenty seconds [from the stage win], it’s hard to take,’ said Leipheimer, who moved up one place to third overall, 40 seconds behind Di Luca. ‘But,’ he said, ‘I think it’ll be a close third week.’

Speaking of Di Luca, the 2007 champ proved his form is far from waning. As he predicted and as he expected, the 33-year-old lost 1:54 to Menchov against the clock, though importantly made time on many of his rivals who showed signs of weakness. And with three mountain finishes in the final week, “Il Killer di Spoltore” is, for many, still the hot tip for the final maglia rosa in Roma.

Said Di Luca, ‘I am happy. The race is never finished until it’s over. We will wait.’

The guy expected to do so much in Cinque Terre, Team Columbia-High Road’s Michael Rogers, fell short of the day’s best marks – 1:37:13 seeing the Australian with only the 14th best time and by consequence, he lost three places on GC to sit sixth overall. Cervelo TestTeam’s Carlos Sastre wasn’t overwhelming, either, but moving up a rung to fifth overall still makes the Spaniard dangerous.

When Lance Armstrong came in with 1:36:55 – 1:23 off Stefano Garzelli – the seven-time Tour winner’s time was rather appropriately good enough for seventh at that point.

South Africa’s John-Lee Augustyn took 151st spot Thursday 11.56 down on Menchov, with Barloworld team-mate Robbie Hunter 177th (14:17).

Augustyn lies 72nd in the general classification, 56:47 down the field with Hunter 146th, six seconds shy of a two-hour deficit.

‘That was no joke,’ said Hunter afterwards. ‘It┬á made Alp D’huez incline (Tour de France)┬á a few years back look stupid! A spectator even said to me “get in the car you’ll go faster”. He was probably right!

“But now I’m having dinner, a great risotto and steak! Can’t get much better than this! And a beer – -I’m a happy man!’


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