Rein Taaramäe and his love affair with Rwanda

Estonian gives away 23 kilos of kit to local club in Rwanda on latest training camp.

Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

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MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Most riders spend their off-season training camps in the south of Spain, but Rein Taaramäe is not interested in that.

The Intermarché-Circus-Wanty rider has been heading to Rwanda for the past two seasons to train at altitude. He’s already been there four times of for training camps and did a bike packing holiday with his wife around the country, and he’s already planning his next trip to the country at the end of the spring.

Taaramäe’s love affair with Rwanda goes back a few years after he went to race the Tour of Rwanda with his previous team, Total Direct Energie. Before he went, he had some misguided views of the country and he was pleasantly surprised with what he saw. He hasn’t looked back since then.

“I went there for racing with Total in 2019 and I was incredibly surprised by it. I thought that there would be bad roads, no food, and nowhere good to stay, but it is the complete opposite,” Taaramäe told VeloNews. “The ambiance isn’t the same as Europe but the living standard is better than some places in Europe.

“The cycling center is a really nice place. In 2019, we had a finish line that was at the cycling center and afterward my team boss wanted to go and see the place. I said I would go with him and I was incredibly surprised and I thought that one day I will go here. But then Covid came and I only started last year in January with that.”

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Taaramäe travels to Rwanda for training so often now that he has left a spare bike there with a friend so that he doesn’t have to take one with him from Europe. As well as having new experiences, meeting different people, and seeing the beautiful scenery, the weather is a major bonus for Taaramäe.

He dislikes the cooler temperatures that hit Europe in the winter and says that he feels “burned out” early in the season if he’s dealing with those conditions too much. The south of Spain or Spanish islands like Tenerife, usually offer better conditions but recent weeks have been plagued by cold weather and rain.

“I can see now that Movistar is in Sierra Nevada, but the conditions are very bad. It’s snowing, it’s cold, and you need to go down by car. I go to Rwanda because I know that I don’t need to look for weather. I know that the weather is good, the roads are good, and the food is good,” he said.

“I hope the people want to go more and more. Especially, pro cyclists. There are not many options in Europe and Teide is always full.”

Kit giveaway

During his regular trips to Rwanda, Taaramäe has become a firm fixture in the cycling scene there and regularly goes out riding with local cyclists. After seeing the degraded equipment that one of his friends was using, he decided to take some of his old kit that was lying in his house unused and bring it with him on his latest visit.

He also enlisted the assistance of his team to get some much needed equipment to a local club near to where he trains in Musanze. In total, he gifted some 23 kilos of kit and equipment to a club run by former national rider Rafiki Uwimana.

“I trained with a local rider last year and I saw that his tires were so used and at any moment it could explode,” Taaramäe said. “I said to him that he needed to change his tire because if he came training with me again and his tire exploded then it could ruin the training because we would need to stop and change the tire. He said nothing and the next day he came, and it was the same tires again and I asked him why he didn’t change them and he said that he didn’t have the money to.

“He said that the chains, cassettes, everything was used until it was gone and if you broke something then often you just stopped riding because you had no option. I said I had a lot of stuff at home that I didn’t use anymore and I would bring it. I also asked my team because in the WorldTour we use tires two or three days and afterward they go in the garbage.”

With materials being discarded at a fast rate by WorldTour teams, which have the budgets and supplies to go through hundreds of tires and thousands of bidons each season, Taaramäe wishes there was a better way to use what are barely used items.

Though national federations across Africa are seeing much more investment, the regular cyclists in each nation do not always have the disposable income to replace equipment when it becomes overly worn. He would like to see more big teams giving away their unwanted gear to people who could make good use of it.

“If you go to the garbage it’s full of bottles and full of tires, but in other places they can use the materials,” he said. “I had the idea in my head, but I’ve had nobody who I could speak with that it would be nice if the UCI or someone would ask all of the WorldTour teams to keep all of the materials that they don’t use anymore and just put it to the side and at the end of the year the teams send material to one country in Africa.

“It is something that can help. It’s good for global cycling and it’s more clean because the tonnes of bottles by the garbage used only once and tires only a few hundred ks. If you send that stuff there, it’s really helpful and it’s really clean. It’s recycling. No, in this moment, we use too much and we waste too much.”

Taaramäe says that won’t start a campaign on the subject but he’s ready to speak to cycling officials if he has a chance to and get the ball rolling.

“If I have an opportunity to speak to somebody then maybe a UCI person can talk to teams. Make no obligation, but even for them they think why not and then maybe you have a country full of Jumbo kits,” he said. “It’s exciting but the only thing is the country make an agreement with the import tolls. The one I know, the federation could help so you don’t have to pay the tolls. It can be beautiful.”

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