By Hedwig Kröner
The first leg-breaker of this year's Vuelta, the ascension of Lagos de Covadonga yesterday, September 4, has shaken up the general classification of the race in view of the overall win. With Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Carlos Sastre (CSC) undoubtedly being the first contenders at this point – sitting just over one minute behind new race leader Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) – Australian Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and Spaniard Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) cannot be counted out just yet.
The might-well-be Tour de France winner of 2006, Oscar Pereiro, said after the stage that he could "live with" his time loss of 1'57" on his Russian team-mate Efimkin, and pointed to the strength of his team which still has more cards to play. "It is an enormous challenge for him to win the Vuelta, but the difference with the favourites is less than one minute," he explained. "We have a really strong team. Karpets and I are just waiting for our moment, which will be the time trial in Zaragoza [on Saturday, September 8 - ed.]. And the next mountaintop finishes are better suited to us, too."
Up the dreaded Lagos de Covadonga, Pereiro fell just a little short of keeping up with the other favourites. "The CSC's were unleashed, and that was just a little too fast for me," he told Sportwereld, adding "I could limit my losses."
But asked who his hot favourite was, the Spaniard indicated that the Tour de France runner-up of this year, Cadel Evans, made a very strong impression on him. Indeed, the Australian climber lost only 22 seconds on Menchov and Sastre on the climb. "I was a little afraid of this first climb," Evans admitted. "Ultimately, it's six weeks after the Tour and I'm racing against guys that have their whole year targeted on the Vuelta. But I've limited my losses; I can live with my time."
Despite being a climber, Evans is known to be a strong time trialist - which is something Carlos Sastre is also aware of. "Evans remains a dangerous man, and Pereiro cannot be counted out, either," he commented on the current state of the overall ranking. Next Saturday, in Zaragoza, the Vuelta might yet take another turn.