By Tim Maloney, European Editor In Paris
Alexei Markov, a 26 year old Russian fastman from St.Petersburg, is Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears new sprinter for 2006. Markov, who had five wins in 2005 on Maia-Milaneza, a Portuguese Continental Pro team, has paid his dues on small Russian and Polish teams, gradually moving up the ladder to the big time. Markov comes from the track racing school of legendary Russian coach Alexander Kusznetzov of Team Lokomotiv in St.Petersburg, who produced talents like Ekimov, Berzin and Bobrik. Indeed, Markov himself comes from track racing, and won an Olympic Gold Medal at the as a member of the Russian Team Pursuit squad.
At the team's presentation on Monday, Markov told Cyclingnews, "I'm happy to be on (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), it's the best team I've ever been on." Markov wasn't specific on his goals for 2006, but said "I'm here to help the team however I can...by winning races and doing well."
Another Russian newcomer to Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears is Vladimir Efimkin, a 24 year old from Samara who burst onto the pro cycling scene last season as a neo-pro on the Barloworld squad. After racing in Italy on the amateur Feralpi team in 2003-4 and having some success, Efimkin had his first pro win at last year's Tour of Aragon in April, then backed it up with a stage win and second on GC at the Four Days of Dunkirk in May. Then, at the end of a long, hot August in a difficult, hard fought Tour of Portugal, Efimkin emerged victorious and attracted a lot of attention from top teams. Finally inking a deal with Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears, Efimkin could become another top stage race rider like his teammate Karpets.
Efimkin told Cyclingnews, "This team is so good to be on for me; I have a lot good races I can ride." Efimkin will likely ride the Giro d'Italia this season to test his legs in his first Grand Tour.