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Efimkin conquers Lagos de Covadonga for stage and Maillot Oro

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Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne)

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) (Image credit: AFP)
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Menchov puts the hurt on

Menchov puts the hurt on (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval)

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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A large breakaway

A large breakaway (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) leads

Carlos Sastre (CSC) leads (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) wins stage four of the Vuelta in Lagos de Covadonga

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) wins stage four of the Vuelta in Lagos de Covadonga (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Efimkin attacked a select group storming away to his first Grand Tour win

Efimkin attacked a select group storming away to his first Grand Tour win (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Vladimir Efimkin was jubilant after the mountain top win in the mist

Vladimir Efimkin was jubilant after the mountain top win in the mist (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Rabobank had a strong presence at the front today

Rabobank had a strong presence at the front today (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Vladimir Karpets leads the peloton

Vladimir Karpets leads the peloton (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Stijn Devolder (Discovery) in the Belgian Champ kit is followed by Maxime Monfort

Stijn Devolder (Discovery) in the Belgian Champ kit is followed by Maxime Monfort (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Efimkin receives his accolades

Efimkin receives his accolades (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Vladimir Efimkin was victorious on the slops of Lagos de Covadonga

Vladimir Efimkin was victorious on the slops of Lagos de Covadonga (Image credit: Unipublic)
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A large breakaway formed early in the stage

A large breakaway formed early in the stage (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Rabobank wasn't working too hard to conserve Freire's golden jersey

Rabobank wasn't working too hard to conserve Freire's golden jersey (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Rubén Lobato (Saunier Duval-Prodir) gets an (illegal) push from some Spanish fans

Rubén Lobato (Saunier Duval-Prodir) gets an (illegal) push from some Spanish fans (Image credit: Unipublic)
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A chase group is led by Ag2r

A chase group is led by Ag2r (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Jose Angel Gómez Marchante leads Cadel Evans on the final climb

Jose Angel Gómez Marchante leads Cadel Evans on the final climb (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Menchov puts the hurt on Sastre, Sorensen and Piepoli

Menchov puts the hurt on Sastre, Sorensen and Piepoli (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The peloton zooms by the scenic buildings in Spain

The peloton zooms by the scenic buildings in Spain (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Pereiro goes for the sprint but Beltran nipped him for 13th

Pereiro goes for the sprint but Beltran nipped him for 13th (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) leads a chase group up the final climb

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) leads a chase group up the final climb (Image credit: Unipublic)
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This is not a happy face by Sammy Sanchez

This is not a happy face by Sammy Sanchez (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) leads the final push to the top ahead of Rabobank's Denis Menchov

Carlos Sastre (CSC) leads the final push to the top ahead of Rabobank's Denis Menchov (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Chris Anker Sørensen (CSC) puts in a monster effort for his leader, Carlos Sastre

Chris Anker Sørensen (CSC) puts in a monster effort for his leader, Carlos Sastre (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The peloton descends near Lagos de Covadonga

The peloton descends near Lagos de Covadonga (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The normally stunning views were obscured by thick clouds

The normally stunning views were obscured by thick clouds (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The Asturias region is home to some interested geological features

The Asturias region is home to some interested geological features (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wasn't expecting to hold the golden jersey at the end of stage four

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wasn't expecting to hold the golden jersey at the end of stage four (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The autobus climbs to the finish while riders having already completed the stage descend

The autobus climbs to the finish while riders having already completed the stage descend (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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High rock walls surround a group on its way to Lagos de Covadonga

High rock walls surround a group on its way to Lagos de Covadonga (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Riders a mere specks in the vast rocky landscape

Riders a mere specks in the vast rocky landscape (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Giuseppi Guerini (T-Mobile) is riding his final race

Giuseppi Guerini (T-Mobile) is riding his final race (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gets some help from his team-mate Igor Anton

Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gets some help from his team-mate Igor Anton (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step-Innergetic)

Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step-Innergetic) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) didn't find the climb to be all that much fun

Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) didn't find the climb to be all that much fun (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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José Ángel Gómez Marchante (Saunier Duval) did good work for Piepoli

José Ángel Gómez Marchante (Saunier Duval) did good work for Piepoli (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) ascends the final climb

Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) ascends the final climb (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Beltran battled with Oscar Pereiro

Beltran battled with Oscar Pereiro (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Chris Anker Sørensen (CSC) worked hard for Carlos Sastre

Chris Anker Sørensen (CSC) worked hard for Carlos Sastre (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r) leads Sorensen and Leondardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas)

Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r) leads Sorensen and Leondardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) had a super day

Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) had a super day (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) showed he still had form left from the Tour

Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) showed he still had form left from the Tour (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) wants to get revenge for a ruined Tour de France

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) wants to get revenge for a ruined Tour de France (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Stijn Devolder (Discovery) gives it his all

Stijn Devolder (Discovery) gives it his all (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Efimikin riding solo to victory on stage four

Efimikin riding solo to victory on stage four (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Silly hat, girls kissing him Vladimir Efimkin gets the whole Grand Tour overall leader experience

Silly hat, girls kissing him Vladimir Efimkin gets the whole Grand Tour overall leader experience (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Stage winner Vladimir Efimkin

Stage winner Vladimir Efimkin (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro just gets pipped by Manuel Beltran

Oscar Pereiro just gets pipped by Manuel Beltran (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas) gets the better of Chris Anker Sørensen

Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas) gets the better of Chris Anker Sørensen (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cadel Evans suffered but lost a minimal amount of time to the favo

Cadel Evans suffered but lost a minimal amount of time to the favo (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) looked strong and focused at the finish of stage four

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) looked strong and focused at the finish of stage four (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Devolder takes third in the sprint behind Piepoli

Devolder takes third in the sprint behind Piepoli (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) gets the sprint for second

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) gets the sprint for second (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Vladimir Efimkin held off a strong push from the GC favorites to win the stage

Vladimir Efimkin held off a strong push from the GC favorites to win the stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

GC battle sorted on 12.6-kilometre cloud covered brut

Vladimir Efimkin stomped clear of the his escape companions on the Lagos de Covadonga climb and successfully held off a raging GC battle to grab the stage win and overall leader's maillot oro. The 26 year-old Russian of Caisse d'Epargne finished over a minute clear of the chase led by Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank).

Carlos Sastre's Team CSC did the majority of the pace-making on the final climb. The efforts distanced GC favourites Australian Cadel Evans (seventh) and Spaniard Oscar Pereiro (11th).

The day was marked by a 30-man escape and the final 12.6 kilometres, up the Lagos de Covadonga. The group was holding on to a gap of two minutes at the base of the hors catégorie climb when Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) launched an attack, thereby marking the end of the group's harmony.

Clouds quickly covered the road as the stage kicked up to 1,110 metres. One by one the escapees, which included Americans Chris Horner and Christian Vande Velde, were picked up by the chase led by CSC's Iñigo Cuesta. However, one man struck clear, Efimkin.

The rider, whose only other pro win this season came in the morning stage of the Euskal Bizikleta, showed impressive rhythm up the slopes that touched 15 percent gradient in parts. He had to keep his composure if he was to last the ten-plus kilometres to the top of the Asturian climb. Behind the Russian, CSC was scorching the roads for the eventual launch of Sastre.

In an atypical style, Sastre accelerated at just over seven kilometres remaining with his rivals left scrabbling to grab his wheel. Visibly strongest was another Russian, Denis Menchov. Menchov captured the Spaniard with Pereiro slightly off the pace. Sastre cooled his jets, letting his team-mates take up the pace once again, but he succeeded in showing he was on form, as did Menchov.

The move whittled down the front group and se tup the race for counter-attacks. As Evans was scrabbling to come to terms, Menchov launched an acceleration of his own that formed the key chase. Behind Efimkin were Menchov, Sastre and, briefly, team-mate Chris Anker Sørensen, and Saunier's Piepoli. Evans, José Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Oscar Pereiro and Liquigas' Manuel Beltrán and Franco Pellizotti were chasing behind. Sørensen was pulled back from the early escape but put in every bit of his resources into helping Sastre maintain his position. His limits were maxed when Menchov hammered one more time in an attempt to drop Sastre at less than two kilometres. Sastre and Piepoli were able to crawl back while Efimkin was clear to win by just over a minute.

Piepoli, who was fighting more for the stage than GC position, held off a resurgence of Stijn Devolder. The Belgian was part of the early escape, but he refused to crack and used the slight ease in the gradient to recapture the leaders in the finale for a third place finish.

Pereiro finished almost two minutes back of the winner and a minute behind his rivals, but was pleased with his team-mate's win. "It is a big challenge for him to try winning this Vuelta a España, but he is got one minute [of advantage] over the favourites," noted Pereiro.

"Our team is very strong. Efimkin was in the front doing a tremendous stage; "Chente" [Garcia Acosta] and Horrach, too. Vladimir [Karpets] and I are waiting for our moment with a favourable time trial in Saragossa. Hypothetically, the next uphill finishes are more favourable for us."

Pereiro was impressed with Evans. "Cadel Evans indeed came to win the Vuelta a España. This first week after riding the Tour [de France] is when he will suffer, as he is getting fit. I think he did things well after the Tour, and he made his move today. When he put his team to work, he showed he didn't come here to go for a walk."

How it unfolded

Lagos de Covadonga is a famous climb that was part of the Vuelta for the first time in 1983. Many known riders succeeded in this mountain including illustrious Pedro Delgado, Laurent Jalabert and Pavel Tonkov.

Lorenzo Bernucci (T-Mobile) didn't start today. Therefore, the total riders who began going through Covadonga were 186. The first attack came in the first climb that was Alto de la Faya de los Lobos (Cat. 2 - kilometre 17.2). A very big group got clear of the bunch including Mauricio Ardila Cano (Rabobank), Chris Horner (Predictor-Lotto), Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel), Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel) and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas). Behind them, another group came up and caught the leaders to join a bunch with more than 30 riders on it.

At the first intermediate sprint in Alto de la Madera (kilometre 62), the leaders' advantage was more than six minutes. Mickaël Delage (Française Des Jeux) crossed below the billboard at first place followed by David Garcia (Karpin-Galicia) and Van Goolen. The peloton had a hard job trying to swallow such a massive breakaway.

From kilometre 100, the peloton started chasing the leaders at a faster pace. At kilometre 128, the gap was drastically reduced to three minutes and 52 seconds, cropping two minutes' advantage in almost 30 kilometres. At the second climb of the day in Alto de la Llama (Cat. 3 - kilometre 131) the gap was 3'45". Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step-Innergetic), Van Goolen, Rene Mandri (Ag2r Prévoyance) and Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne) got the bonus points. The distance became shorter a shorter minute after minute.

In Cangas de Onis (22.5 kilometres to go), the leaders were in the up front more than two and a half minutes ahead of the rest. Meanwhile, there was a crash in the big group that included the Crédit Agricole's team leader Pietro Caucchioli. The Italian was able to continue but his GC chances will be in jeopardy.

The big show began at the bottom of Lagos de Covadonga. The leaders maintained a little gap but with the big names closing behind. The chase was guided by CSC Team. Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) followed by Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) took the leadership from the escape group. The Russian had a better tempo, and then led the race solo with 11 kilometres to go.

Efimkin was part of the big breakaway of the day and found the right time to resist even with the favourites behind him. The big names climbed at top speed: Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans and Leonardo Piepoli chased the Russian and easily picked up the original members of the long break. With eight kilometres to the finish line, the Caisse d'Epargne rider had a 2'12" over his chasers.

Lagos showed its toughness in La Huesera, which is the hardest part of the mountain. Efimkin resisted and got the most of the 'flat' sections of the climb while he led by 1'41" ahead of Menchov five kilometres before the finale. With three kilometres to the end, Vladimir didn't fade and had a 1'34" over the chasing group.

Finally, Efimkin was able to celebrate. He became the third Russian winning at the top of this mythical Vuelta mountain. Piepoli, Devolder and Menchov came second, third and fourth in Covadonga.

Stage 5 - September 5: Cangas de Onís - Reinosa, 157.4km

The stage from Cangas de Onís to Reinosa will not decide the Vuelta with its last peak coming at kilometre 136 but it will likely make one contender a 'non-contender.'

Three category 2 climbs dot the parcours before the final category 1 blast up the Puerto de la Palombera. Any rider wishing to have a chance today might want to channel the forces of German Dietrich Thurau who won an almost identical stage in 1976.

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