From Rwanda to Oman: Rein Taaramae's unorthodox start to 2022
Estonian says African altitude adventure was 'the best training camp experience in my 15-year pro career'
As a 15-year veteran in the pro peloton, Estonian climber Rein Taaramäe is no stranger to travelling and competing in exotic climes but his start to the 2022 season has been something quite out of the ordinary.
Ninety per cent of the peloton head to Spain's Med coast or Tenerife for training camps in December and January before kicking off their campaigns in cycling's traditional heartlands of Spain or France.
Taaramäe, who started his season this week far from western Europe at the Tour of Oman, opted for another far-flung destination for his pre-season camp as he headed to Rwanda in Africa.
The country, which holds its own national tour and will host the Road World Championships in 2025, is a cycling hotbed, though still not a place where you might expect to find a European pro in January.
"I spent four weeks there at altitude training camp," Taaramäe told Cyclingnews ahead of the Tour of Oman's third stage outside Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. "Not many people know it but it's a good idea to come.
"They have accommodation only for cyclists – a village from the government in 2015. It's 15 small houses, a small restaurant. It's at 2,000 metres, the roads are good, and the people are very nice.
"There's also no time difference if you go from central Europe, and actually it's better than going to Tenerife or Sierra Nevada because there it's cold and you can only go up and down, but in Rwanda it's a little bit flat but with climbs as well. It really was the best experience from training camps in my 15-year pro career."
34-year-old Taaramäe, now in the second year of a three-year deal at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, has raced in the country before – finishing second at the Tour du Rwanda in 2019 and winning the mountains classification in 2020.
He said that he heard about the cycling centre where he stayed during his training camp during a previous visit, adding that he was impressed by the facilities – enough so that he went there to train even when training partners or teammates weren't able to join him.
"After one stage, I remember we were close to cycling centre and I heard about it and I told my team boss 'let's go and see that' and then I saw it and I was really impressed," Taaramäe said.
"My teammates had training camp in Calpe. Jan Hirt, Taco van der Hoorn and Lorenzo Rota spent time in Colombia, but I wanted to go to Rwanda. They prefer that. For me it was it was my first time to do camp there and I was a little scared of maybe food poisoning or something but for the four weeks I had no problems at all."
Taaramäe, who last year added a Vuelta a España stage win and spell in the red jersey to a palmarès that includes a victory there in 2011 as well as a Giro d'Italia stage, leads Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert at the Tour of Oman alongside Hirt, though doesn't know how he'll fare during the upcoming GC days at Qurayyat and Green Mountain.
"Maybe we can play a bit together at the end if we're up there. Maybe we can tactically 'flick' the others a little bit," he said of his team's chances on the summit finishes.
"Of course we want to be there, but the level is high. We will see."
Four weeks at altitude will certainly have helped his current condition, even if he was forced to miss pre-season testing at team camp as a result.
But beyond the obvious performance benefits of a Rwandan camp – just ask Victor Campenaerts, who has taken part in similar long camps in Namibia – Taaramäe was also effusive about the cycling culture in the country.
"People rode around the city or went from city to city on foot or by bike," he said. The roads were really good, like here – no holes, nothing. And they have a lot of cyclists, regular people who use bikes, and drivers are adapted to cyclists and the speed limit is also 60 so you feel comfortable. If a car comes behind you he beeps his horn behind so you always know when a car arrives. They never pass you [close].
"It's a completely different world," he said. "They have completely different lifestyle and a great way of life. All the four weeks I was just laughing and enjoying the life because it was so different."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Prior to joining the team, he had written for most major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also runs The Leadout newsletter and oversees How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal, and he rides a Colnago C40.