By Greg Johnson
Caisse d'Epargne Vladimir Efimkin was delighted with his victory on the Vuelta a España's first mountain stage, the 185.1 kilometre Stage 4 to Lagos de Covadonga. The Russian rider labelled the victory as being important to his future, after breaking away solo some 11 kilometres from the finish line and holding off his former breakaway companions all the way to the summit of the mountain-top finish.
"This victory is very important in my sporting career," explained Efimkin, who now leads the Grand Tour. "I had a very difficult beginning of season and the victory of today is the proof that one never should give up the fight. I crashed at the beginning of the season, in the first stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, where I broke my collarbone. Rehabilitation was very long, requiring a lot of patience. I did not start racing again before the Euskal Bizikleta, where I won the second stage. That was one very difficult, but at the same time very important period in my life, because I realized that I could count on the support of my family and all my team, and that gave me courage not to give up. The victory of today is not only mine, it is that of a whole team."
The victory is by far the biggest of the 26 year-old's career and the Russian hopes to continue the form through to the Grand Tour's finish. "I prepared very well for this Tour of Spain," he said. "I do not have much experience in the major Tours, because until now I took part only in one Giro d'Italia, but I feel well and we are present here with a very strong team, with various options. Oscar Pereiro and Vladimir Karpets are the leaders of the team and I will continue working for them, but it goes without saying that we will defend this jersey."
Italian Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval - Prodir) took second place on Stage four, with the rider leading in a group that included third placed Belgian Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) some 1.06 minutes behind Efimkin. The Caisse d'Epargne rider leads the Vuelta overall by 1.06 minutes from fellow Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Spaniard Carlos Sastre (Team CSC).
Efimkin's team leader Oscar Pereiro, who sits 1.57 minutes behind on general classification, was delighted with his team-mate's result. "I am pleased for Vladimir, because he is a good mate and today he rode a great stage," said Pereiro. "But not only him, also all the other riders of the team, as well those which worked in front in the breakaway, as those which made the job behind.
"Personally, I am rather satisfied," added Pereiro of his own 14th place on stage and 13th on GC. "I tried to make a little jump, in fact to see what I was able to do compared with riders like Sastre and Menchov, but my way of climbing is not theirs and it is useless that I try to follow their rhythm. It is better that I climb at my own rhythm. That's what I did, which enabled me not to lose too much time."