Six years into a pro career that catapulted him to mountaintops and victory podiums around the globe, Vladimir Efimkin decided in the summer of 2010 he’d had enough.
Everything right with cycling had been overshadowed by everything wrong. He grew weary of cycling’s abrupt random drug testing.
He endured crashes and broken bones, the banes of cycling. And he had a young wife and a young daughter who needed him.
A stage winner at the Tour de France and Tour of Spain, Efimkin, 29, nullified a contract with Ag2r-La Mondiale, a top-tiered French team, and returned home to Roseville.
“It wasn’t one moment, but I read a lot of books and now I understand,” said Efimkin, who recently moved with his wife, Yuliya, 5-year-old daughter, Veronica, and 10-month-old son, Kevin, to a newly built home in Granite Bay. “Family for me is first place and racing is second. But it wasn’t easy to decide.
“With my brother, we have a big fan club in Italy. But I wasn’t going to race for the fans. But my friends understand.”
Slightly more than a year removed from competition, Efimkin, the elder of identical twins and known for his climbing skills, will resume his career with two upstart American stage races similar to the Tour of California.
Signed in recent weeks to the newly named Team Type 1-SANOFI squad, the brothers will race together beginning Tuesday in the Tour of Utah. The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado follows, beginning Aug. 22.
“The first month (of training) was difficult,” said the 5-foot-11, 147-pound Efimkin, who often apologizes for his English, one of five languages he speaks. “I needed to be at our new house a lot of the time. I spent the whole day on the bike. I didn’t take the car.
“When there were other properties to look at in other cities, I took the bike. By the end of the days, I had a lot of kilometers on my legs.”
Both events suit the brothers’ climbing skills. The six-day Tour of Utah progresses into the Wasatch Mountains, with one stage finishing at more than 11,000 feet.
The weeklong Colorado event features several mountainous days, including an ascent to Independence Pass at more than 12,000 feet.
Chris Baldwin, Team Type 1-SANOFI’s public relations manager, said: “Russians ride with a different rhythm. They’re aggressive early. We think we’ll have a good double attack in the mountains.”
“You understand, training mileage is not racing mileage,” said Efimkin, who realized he missed cycling in May after watching the Tour of California advance near his previous home. “So for my first race, my objective is to finish. But in Russia, we tell it like this: ‘It’s a bad soldier who doesn’t want to be general.’
“I would like to win a race or win some stages, but I know my body has some surprises. Some days it’s not easy. But on the climbs, I will understand. If it’s not good, I will be a better father, and I will stop. In racing, it makes sense to be winner. If it’s just to think about finishing a race, it’s not interesting.”
Vladimir Alexandrovich Efimkin and Alexander Alexandrovich Efimkin were born 15 minutes apart in Kuybyshev (now Samara), Russia. As youngsters in a sports-centric city, they tried karate, swimming and basketball.
Cycling was an illogical and distant next choice. Bicycles were scarce and old. Efimkin recalls attending camps where children who didn’t show promise were quickly dismissed.
“Maybe we didn’t have talent, but it was fun, and I decided, ‘I need this,’ ” Efimkin said. “I think it’s important to have fun. But it was very difficult. Our system was about selection. If you were not on top, you were out. The economic situation was bad. The coach could only select who was strong.
“One day the coach, I think, found my brother a bike, but it was old. It was not for training. It didn’t work.”
The brothers’ father had a better idea. Through a connection with friends, a better used bike was found. Alexander quickly began to win regional races; Vladimir then did likewise.
“In this moment,” said Efimkin, laughing, “our careers changed. We weren’t bad guys. But the teachers did call our mom. We had a lot of energy.
“After high school, we were in a special school, like a university. We were cyclists, but with a special teacher who came to races. We understood a lot of stuff, mathematics, physiology, languages. I was able to understand then what happened to us before.”
The brothers turned pro in 2005. In 2007, Vladimir won a stage and finished sixth overall in the Tour of Spain and Tour of Switzerland. He won a stage and placed 10th overall in the 2008 Tour de France.
Alexander won a 2005 stage of the Tour of Portugal and had four combined stage and overall wins in 2007. This past spring, early in his new deal with Team Type 1-SANOFI, he won the Tour of Turkey.
The Efimkins are close and have often been teammates. Alexander lives in Italy; Vladimir moved from Italy to Roseville three years ago because his wife, also a Russian native, has worked in the banking industry and had many friends and family members in the Sacramento area.
As soon as his wife showed him the American River Parkway and its lengthy paved cycling path, Efimkin was ready to move.
The Team Type I-SANOFI squad is registered as Pro-Continental, one step below the Pro Tour teams that compete in the Tour de France.
The lower-division pro team is an ideal fit for the Efimkin brothers. It’s directed by Vassili Davidenko, a former Russian pro and 15-time national titlist. The team encourages and supports amateur and pro athletes with Type 1 diabetes. Five members of the current 20-rider men’s pro squad have the disease.
“We are different,” said Vladimir of the brothers’ cycling approaches. “If I train four of five hours a day, he does six hours because he is very serious. But I was more like him when I won the Tour of Portugal (in 2005). One day, I said to him, ‘You go because I am not ready.’ He said, ‘I can’t go, it’s impossible.’ So I went and I won a stage, and the race.”
Neither of the Efimkins has diabetes. But Vladimir has several developing business interests, including the Sacramento-based website www.sportsdestiny.com. The site is in Russian, but an English-language version is under construction.
It’s a training and inspirational site Efimkin uses to help young cyclists develop their talents and seeks to supply other fledgling cyclists with equipment at low costs.
But Efimkin also has a racing schedule again to focus on. After his two U.S. comeback stage races, two races in China await.
“For now, I will race with Team Type 1,” Efimkin said. “Maybe I would like to go back to a big team, but these races and roads will tell me.
“Maybe I will be on Team Type I one more year, or maybe I’ll be ready for a big team. I don’t know what I want. My family is very happy together, but I also understand I need to race.”
(Originally published in the Sacramento Bee, Aug. 7, 2011.)
To view a slideshow, visit: Vladimir Efimkin/Sacramento Bee