Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) endured a late scare on stage 4 of the Vuelta a España when he crashed a little over two kilometres from the finish in Molina de Aragon, but the red jersey is his for another day at least. After taking a seat in his press conference afterwards, the Estonian explained that he aims to hold the garment for two more stages, at least until the rugged run to Balón de Alicante on Friday.
“My dream is to keep this jersey until the Alicante stage, so I have to do tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” Taaramäe smiled. “I don’t know how the weather is tomorrow, I don’t know if there’s wind or not. After tomorrow there’s the uphill finish [at Alto de Cullera], so I will have to be really good to keep the jersey there because [Primož] Roglič is close and there are bonus seconds.”
Taaramäe explained that his crash had been inadvertently caused by one of Roglič’s Jumbo-Visma teammates, though he bore no ill will over the incident, which left him with no lasting injuries and had no effect on his overall lead given that it took place inside the final three kilometres.
“The crash happened because it was quite nervous and everyone was trying to stay in front,” he said. “A teammate of Roglič made big turn on the front of the peloton and swung off, and I came down. But it’s not his fault. That’s cycling, and I don’t blame anybody.”
Taaramäe thus retains his lead of 25 seconds over Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) and 30 on Roglič after stage 4. The 34-year-old is familiar with the stage 6 finale at Alto de Cullera from last year’s Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana, when he came home 51 seconds down on Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). On current form and with the defence of the maillot rojo as motivation, he will expect to fare better this time out.
Indeed, Valerio Piva, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux directeur sportif, maintained that motivation is a partial explanation for Taaramäe’s return to form on this Vuelta. In his time at Cofidis, Taaramäe had been viewed as a rider with Grand Tour potential, and he produced notable climbing displays – including a stage win on the 2016 Giro d’Italia – during his stints at Astana and Katusha, but his tenure at Total Direct Energie was rather more subdued.
“I think the motivation is a key word for Rein. He’s motivated and he feels good on this team,” Piva said at the start of stage 4 in Burgo de Osma. “He’s a good rider, we know that. He has talent, good numbers and he’s in shape, but I think the key thing is the motivation and feeling good in the environment of the team. He felt that we believed in him and that made him believe. That is what his stage win on Monday showed. He was thankful to us afterwards, just as we were to him.”
Piva shared Taaramäe’s view that he could hold the maillot rojo until later in the opening week, though he struck a cautious note about the Alto de Cullera.
“The uphill the day after tomorrow is a very hard stage. We’re going day by day, but to keep the jersey for two to three days would be fantastic,” said Piva, who acknowledged its importance to Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, a team with one of the WorldTour’s more modest budgets. “This means lot because we haven’t had a lot of victories this year.”
The Belgian squad has notched up just five wins in 2021 and only two at WorldTour level, though the first of those was also on a Grand Tour, when Taco van der Hoorn pulled off a remarkable heist to hold off the sprinters in Canale on stage 3.
“Rein’s win here means we’ve started well, and it’s the same good spirit we showed in the Giro,” said Piva. “We also won stage 3 there and then we had riders in the break every day. For sure I dreamed of a stage victory but to have the jersey at the same time is fantastic.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.