Estonian sprinters climb the podium in Colombia
Mihkel Raim and Martin Laas jokingly credit 'potato power' for their success
Mihkel Raim and Martin Laas are more than Estonian compatriots who race bikes. They're former schoolmates who share an apartment in Girona and a love for fast finishes.
Raim, who rides for Israel Cycling Academy, and Laas, who rides for Team Illuminate, have both scored runner-up finishes this week at Tour Colombia 2.1. Laas was runner-up to Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-QuickStep) on stage 2 in La Ceja, and Raim finished second to Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) on stage 4 after Jungels soloed across the line to take the win Friday in Medellin. Raim was also fourth on the stage Molano won.
"I think since we live together in Girona in the same apartment and we've known each other for 10 years or something, that we complete each other in the training, so if one of us has a bad day then the other supports, and I think this is the power that keeps us going," Raim told Cyclingnews before the start of stage 3 in Llanogrande.
Raim, 25, is currently ranked third among Estonian UCI riders behind Direct Energie's Rein Taaramae and EF Education First's Tanel Kangert. The reigning Estonian road champion, he won the overall at the Tour of Hungary in 2016 and has taken stage wins at the Colorado Classic, Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Tour of Korea, Tour of Japan and Tour d'Azerbaidjan, among others.
His compatriot Laas, 25, is ranked seventh among Estonians and has taken multiple stage wins at the Tour of Thailand, Tour of Japan and the Tour of Estonia, where he won the overall in 2015. Laas moved to the American Continental team Illuminate last season after three years on the French Delko Marseille Provence team.
Together the pair form the most promising Estonian sprint duo since Jaan Kirsipuu and Janel Tombak were racking up the sprint wins in the 1990s and 2000s. Raim says his roommate could be the next Kirsipuu.
"He had more than 130 UCI victories, so of course I think I'm not as fast like him, but Martin might be as fast as him," Raim said. "He's a star."
Laas objected to the comparison.
"Maybe it's a little too much," he said. "I can make a fast sprint if they're flat, but if they are uphill – I can do well also – but I prefer to ride fast sprints that are flat. Miku [Raim] is going well in the climbs also. I am not, but I have the high speed, maybe not Jaan Kirsipuu, but if I have good shape and good legs I can sprint."
Laas has the advantage of fellow Estonian Steven Kalf on his team. The 23-year-old joined Illuminate this year and is racing for the first time with the team in Colombia.
The two teams actually parked next to each other before the start of stage 4 in Medellin, providing the roommates and their compatriot a chance to talk about what exactly was their secret weapon in battling for results in a peloton that includes six WorldTour Teams.
"Before yesterday's stage for dinner I had mashed potatoes," Raim joked, referring to the vegetable that has been a staple of the Estonian diet dating back to serfdom. "But keep that top secret."
Laas and Kalf both agreed with Raim's assessment wholeheartedly – and with a healthy dose of sly humour. All three Estonians are obviously having a good time in Colombia, although the laughs ended during Saturday's stage 5, when all three abandoned a very difficult climbing stage.
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.