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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cycling Guru: Future Is Russian

MARSEILLES, France -- The man who steered cycling greats Miguel Indurain and Pedro Delgado to Tour de France victory has tipped three young Russians to challenge for cycling's most prestigious race.

Jose-Miguel Echavarri, chief of the team, says Denis Menchov, Vladimir Karpets and Evgueni Petrov, who have dominated the young rider classification almost since the start of the Tour, can one day play leading roles.

Menchov, 25, began Tuesday's 10th stage in 10th place overall, three minutes and 45 seconds behind leader Lance Armstrong. He is one of the best climbers in the peloton.

"We spotted him in races in France as an amateur and he has now been with us for six years," the outspoken Echavarri said.

"He settled down perfectly in Pamplona with his wife. He's a real citizen of [the Spanish region of] Navarra. He's now a Navarussian."

Since joining in 2000, the Russian has won the Tour de l'Avenir, the equivalent of the Tour de France for under-25 cyclists, and now leads the white jersey classification as the best young Tour rider in this year's event.

"He is very, very gifted but we've worked with him in our usual fashion, letting him progress slowly but safely," Echavarri said.

The Basque team director had applied the same tactics with Indurain, whom he let blossom at his own pace before watching him take the first of his five Tour victories in 1991 at the age of 27. Indurain also won the Tour de l'Avenir in 1986.

"Menchov is already in the Tour top 10. In two or three years he will be going for the podium or even victory," Echavarri said.

Karpets, the youngest and tallest rider in the Tour at 22 and 1.93 meters, also led the under-25 classification early in the Tour but lost time in the mountains and is now 58th, 46:16 behind Armstrong.

But Echavarri, who hired him from small Russian team Itera, also believes he has a great career ahead of him.

"He's very good in time trials as he proved in the prologue. He has a great potential but he's young. He must discover what the Tour is like," he said.

"In the Alps, he told me it was hard and long. That's the usual problem with young riders. They don't know what to expect from a three-week race," he added.

Petrov, 25, started with powerful Italian team Mapei before it pulled out of cycling last season, and the Russian joined his compatriots at full of ambition.

An under-25 road and time trial world champion in 2000, Petrov also won the Tour de l'Avenir last year, like Menchov and Indurain before him.

Before Tuesday's stage he was 30th overall and third in the under-25 standings.

"Petrov is very different from Karpets, who never speaks, or Menchov. He's a real Italian rider. He speaks all the time. As a rider, his results speak for themselves," Echavarri said.

Even if the future of his team is unclear, as bank Banesto will cease its sponsoring next season, Echavarri said he had no doubts about the future of his Russian trio.

"In two years' time, Armstrong won't be here anymore. And I would not be surprised if the rider who takes over from him is among those three," he said.