By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide, Australia
During Lance Armstrong's one-man show towards the end of stage 6 in the Tour Down Under, the kid who dared to counter-attack after "the boss" was 21-year-old Rein Taaramae from Estonia. At the start of the Australian event, he never thought he'd be able to position himself at the head of the race. "I was sick," Taaramae said. "I thought I had bronchitis and I was under antibiotics for three days. I felt very weak."
His teammate, Cofidis' sprinter Alexandre Usov, didn't think he was weak when he tried to follow him while coming back to the peloton after having a flat tire in stage one. "Taaramae rode so fast!" said Usov.
"He's got a superb engine but he doesn't always ride very smartly yet," commented his directeur sportif Francis Vanlondersele. "When he attacks, he's able to amaze many riders. Last year at the very beginning of his pro career, he went away solo on a climb at the Tour of Valencia and the only rider who managed to catch him was [Tour de France winner] Alberto Contador. He's still unsure of himself, and he's got a lot to learn, but for sure he has exceptional abilities like very few riders have. Look at what he did today, he's got the balls to challenge Armstrong!"
Taaramae will ride the Tour Méditerranéen and might earn a start at Paris-Nice since Cofidis doesn't have any big leader to protect following the departures of Sylvain Chavanel, Nick Nuyens and Maxime Monfort. "It's wide open for riders like him," said Vanlondersele, who discovered with satisfaction in South Australia that Taaramae can also cope very well with the heat, something he doubted previously. That means he's likely to get a start at the Tour de France as well this year in a team without any big sprinter or climber.
Taaramae is an excellent time triallist. The Tour of Romandie, where he rode so well last year, will again be a test for him this year. It's realistic to believe it could earn him a position on the start line in Monaco in July.