Twiddling his fingers and saying, “I was waiting like that,” was how Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) described the post-crash delay that cost him the Vuelta a España lead on stage 5 on Wednesday.
For the second time in 24 hours, late on stage 5 the words caida del lider [leader falls] flashed up on Spanish TV screens again as Taaramäe hit the deck in the closing kilometres of the day’s racing. But this time he was far from being the only one to go down.
On stage 4, Taaramäe was well within the three-kilometre to go zone so he could finish in his own good time and with his lead intact no matter what. However, on stage 5 with the pile-up at 11 kilometres to go, Taaramäe’s near-identical misfortune proved to be a very different outcome.
Fortunately only slightly injured in the pile-up but nonetheless caught behind the first fallers so seriously he had to wait for what must have felt like an eternity, the Estonian crossed the line in 125th place, 2:26 down, losing 26 places overall.
“I was lucky maybe. I am OK [physically] and even my bike was in one piece. I just crashed on top of some riders and then others crashed on top of me,” Taaramäe said later. “My position was good, but the guys on the front still went down.”
The 34-year-old said that as he waited for the riders lying on top of him, and above all, on the ground ahead of him to disentangle themselves from the crash, he could sense his 25-second lead over Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) and the rest was slowly but steadily evaporating in the hot Albacete afternoon.
“I actually wanted to get up faster. But there were so many guys on top of me, only screaming and yelling at each other," he said.
”I was down on the ground, I couldn’t move for a long time. So I was waiting like that and this made me mad, because I wanted to get up.”
When he did remount, he found that the first part of the peloton had waited for the bulk of the fallers, his small group of chasers were deemed superfluous to such unofficial measures of mercy.
So for 11 long kilometres, Taaramäe and his teammates Jan Hirt and Simone Petilli chased as hard as possible, but with steadily decreasing hopes they could regain contact and retain his lead. And so it proved.
To his immense credit, the Estonian took his defeat more than well, looking at the positives from the last three days rather than getting overly upset.
“There’s no frustration," he said. "The team gave it everything, I could only keep the lead for a few days more and then probably afterwards I’d have lost it to [Primož] Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) anyway.”
Taaramäe refused to condemn the peloton for failing to wait for him, saying he never thought that they would stop. For him it just formed part of the game that they had not done so, and if the cards had not fallen in his favour on Wednesday in the Vuelta, on other occasions and in other races they had done so.
“For example, if I had been in second or third place overall today [and in the front group] I could have taken the jersey,” Taaramäe observed. “That’s cycling. Sometimes there are gaps and crashes and you win races like that. It’s fair.”
“Yesterday [Tuesday] I crashed with less than three kilometres to go, but this time it was too far. I’ve also been in big stage races when crashes have happened with 15 kilometres to go and I was in the front group. When that happened, I was lucky.”
As Taaramäe pointed out, the odds of him keeping the jersey on Thursday’s short, punchy summit finish at Cullera were low, so “it was not such a big case for me. Two days in red is good enough and I have Monday's stage victory in my pocket too."
On the downside from the crash too, Taaramäe said he was slightly injured, with some minor head pain even after crossing the line, although he thinks that he is OK.
On the plus side, he remains in the King of the Mountains lead and that may become a future goal.
“We’ll talk it through with the team and see day by day, although I’ve only got 10 points and there are all the big mountain stages to come,” he pointed out. “But I think I can defend this jersey better than the red, so why not?”
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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