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PORRENTRUY, Switzerland (VN) — Earlier this year, Estonia’s Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) was wearing white — his bedsheets, under which he suffered from mononucleosis.
Now, after a brilliant ride up the steep, undulating ramps of La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 7, where he stoically hung with the most elite overall contenders in this year’s Tour — Cadel Evans (BMC), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and his super climbing domestique, Chris Froome — he wears white once again. This time, it’s for the best-placed young rider at the Tour, those 25 years and younger.
The 24-year-old has had a trying spring. He rode through Paris-Nice still recovering from mono; at the beginning of May, he broke his hand.
“All May, I only rode the home trainer,” Taaramäe said. “Every day, four hours. It’s not the same sport: You are closed in your room and can only check yourself in the mirror in front of you.”
But his summer form is blossoming, and saw him leave all but the best climbers behind on the 5.9km category 1 climb to the Haute Saône ski station. He finished a remarkable fifth, just 19 seconds off the pace of Froome. Still, Taaramäe has a knack for going strong one day — arguably too strong — and suffering the next.
On the dynamic stage 8 from Belfort to Porrentruy — with a category 4 climb, a category 3, four category 2s, and one category 1 before a steep descent and 10km of flats — Taaramae may have shown us why he has this reputation.
He ended up losing 2:21 to stage winner Thibaut Pinot, a rival for the white jersey. He still sits 46 seconds up on Pinot’s teammate, Tony Gallopin, and 1:41 on Tejay van Garderen (BMC) in the best-young-rider competition.
But this year, the Tour is all about time trials — and Taaramäe doesn’t have a problem with that.
“Today it was not perfect, but the race is long. I think I’m a little bit better at time trialing than I am a climber. When I’m climbing, all the time I’m just trying to hang on. But the time trial, by myself, I do a good ride. It’s not bad for me.”
With more than 100km of time trials on this year’s parcours, in some ways the race has yet to start. And Taaramäe is, in fact, not bad at time trials. Last year, he finished ninth in the final TT in Grenoble on his way to a 10th place overall finish. His ability to remain unscathed in the nervous first week of the Tour surely helped his cause, as well.
“The first week, for me, is the hardest. The guys are really, really nervous,” he said. “Everyone is like soldiers in the war. But I have good eyes and I don’t take much risk, so I passed by all the crashes.”