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Cool Menchov looks to Tour

DENIS Menchov almost lost the Giro d'Italia within sight of the Colosseum that marked the finish after falling on the rain-slicked cobblestones of Rome with less than a kilometer to go.

The Russian got right back up, and on a spare bike provided by a team member, still finished the race with a 41-second lead over runner-up Danilo Di Luca.

He said the win, the biggest of his career, means that he will now enter the Tour de France as a serious contender.

"It sounds strange, but I finished this race very fresh."

When he finally did make it to the finish, the usually taciturn Menchov let out an emotional scream and raised his arms in triumph.

Menchov won two of the race's key stages, the mountaintop finish at Alpe di Siusi in stage 5 and the marathon-like 60.6-kilometer individual time trial along the Cinque Terre in stage 12. "The time trial was my proudest moment, and I think today was the most dramatic moment," he said.

Menchov slid on the cobblestones for about 10 meters, dirtying the overall leader's pink jersey and opening up a cut on his right hip.

The Rabobank rider entered the final stage with a 20-second lead on LPR's Di Luca and was already comfortably ahead of the Italian at the final checkpoint before falling.

Menchov's focus will now turn toward the Tour, starting on July 4.

Italy's Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas came third, while Cervelo's Carlos Sastre of Spain, the 2008 Tour champion, was fourth.

Lance Armstrong of Astana, gaining fitness for a tilt at an eighth Tour title after coming out of retirement, finished a creditable 12th.


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