Rein Taaramae forgets health woes with queen stage victory
Only a month after a larynx operation, Estonian champion Rein Taaramae (COF) struck back to win the queen stage of the 50th Tour of Turkey in Elmali and take the Turquoise jersey off Mark Cavendish's back. One of the most gifted riders of his generation, but often hampered by injuries and sickness, the man who finished 11th in the 2011 Tour de France surged mercilessly in the last 300 metres to drop Briton Adam Yates (OGE), with whom he had launched the decisive move three kilometres from the line. All the other favourites at the start of the 185-km ride from Finike were unable to react and had to settle for the honour places, Eritrea's Merhawi Kudus (MTN) finishing fourth ahead of Italian veteran Davide Rebellin (CCC) in fifth place.
The queen stage of this Tour of Turkey started without Sacha Modolo (LAM), still suffering from earlier wounds. Before the peloton started tackling the climbs, Mattia Pozzo (NRI) snatched the Turkish Beauties sprint at Santa Claus's birthplace ahead of Frederique Robert (WGG) and robbed the Belgian of the white jersey.
The first ascent on the menu already saw some 50 riders lose ground and while Valentin Iglinskiy (AST) was fastest at the top, a break developed quickly afterwards, involving five riders: Javier Aramendia (GJL), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (TSV), Nico Sijmens (WGG), Frekalsi Debesay (MTN) and Christophe Le Mevel (COF), who joined them later. While Eritrea's Debesay was dropped in the second ascent to Kuruovabeli, he was replaced in the group by Davide Frattini (UHC), who came back to the front from behind.
At kilometre 65, Simon Yates (OGE) crashed and was forced out of the race with a fractured collarbone. His brother would later avenge the loss.
In the fist category climb dedicated to 1963 TUR winner Rifat Çaliskan, Frattini, Le Mevel, Vanspeybrouck and Sijmens, in that order, reached the top with a 3:00 lead over the main bunch, led by MTN-Qhubeka riders.
Team Astana took the pack reins over in the long stretch towards the last climb, maintaining a steady gap with the break and as the peloton was riding into Elmali (km 155), a collective pile-up sent a dozen riders down on the tarmac, including pre-stage favourites Rebellin (CCC) and Yoann Bagot (COF).
The break was reeled in the first kilometre of the final climb and Jarl Salomein (TSV), followed by Marco Canola (BAR), were the first to try their luck in the finale. More serious but just as vain were the attempts by 2012 winner Alexandr Dyachenko (AST) and Kudus. Taaramae's perfectly timed surge was punishing and only Yates was capable of joining him before striking in the last 500 metres on his way to a commanding stage victory.
Overall, the Estonian now leads the Briton by six seconds and his French team-mate Romain Hardy by 38 seconds. Hardy was, like Taaramae, on team Cofidis sick list recently having just recovered from toxoplasmosis.
Rein Taaramäe: "I feared I had blown my engine"
What's your impression two and a half years after your last international victory in La Farrapona on the 2011 Vuelta?
It's just beautiful to be riding in such condition. I thought I would never find it back again. In the past, I was a very good rider but these last two years, I thought my engine had blown. I was climbing with the sprinters and sometimes they even dropped me. Nobody knew what was wrong. I was actually suffering from a laringal obstruction and I had asthma. I had too much skin on the larynx and the air did not get through. I couldn't breathe. I received surgery in Estonia on March 12 and it changed everything. I didn't expect to be back to my best that quickly. It's wonderful.
How did you decide to attack three kilometres from the finish line?
I must first of all thank my team-mates who perfectly paved the way for me. I didn't ask anything but they did their utmost to place me ideally. We were supposed to be riding more for Yoann Bagot but he didn't feel too well after his crash. I didn't want to attack too early because of the headwind. I thought everything would be decided in the last two kilometres. 2.8 km from the summit,
Tomasz Marczynski attacked hard. Everybody was full gas and I told myself it was time to go. I took a tight curve at full speed. Only a rider from Orica (Adam Yates) could take my wheel. I don't know how old he is but I guess I have more experience than he has. My legs were hurting but so were his. I was really confident.
At the start of he first stage of the TUR, you recalled that one of your compatriots, Aavo Pikuus, had won it in 1979. Do you think you could soon emulate him?
Of course, I want to win the overall, I have a lot of confidence in my team but it won't be easy. The race is still long and everything remains possible. I already held the Turquoise jersey in 2010 but at the time, I had been warned by my team I was doing the Tour of Turkey at the last minute. I was in the middle of a break. Now I feel great.
The quotes on the finish line
Adam Yates (Orica Greenedge) 2nd: "I've been all right. I was the team's plan B. Plan A was for my brother Simon but he crashed. I didn't know if I could step up to that level but it took me a lot of work to get here. In the first climb, I could see Taaramäe was strong so I decided to follow him if he'd go in the last climb. I knew who he was and I chased him down."
Romain Hardy (Cofidis), 3rd: "I'm really glad about Rein's victory and personally I was surprised to finish that well. Our two leaders, initially, were Yoann Bagot and him but Yoann crashed, he was unwell and his knee was hurting. So in the last climb it was all for Rein. Nicolas Edet also did a great job. When Rein attacked, the others didn't quite recognise him with his Estonian champion jersey and I started to impose a false tempo so that our rivals thought there was no Cofidis in the front. I had started feeling good for a month, 4th in Paris-Camembert and I was good at the Tour du Finistere as well. Today marks the end of two years in the doldrums for me after my toxoplasmosis in 2012. I really thank Cofidis for their patience. I lived eight months without riding and I couldn't do anything until the summer 2013. The team adapted a programme to help me back into shape and here we are, I really feel I'm back at my level"