Rein Taaramäe joined his new teammates at the Katusha team camp held in Calpe, Spain, last week where he was introduced to the team's primary overall contender Joaquim Rodriguez, who he acknowledged as his "idol". Although Taaramäe will co-lead the team at the Giro d’Italia with Ilnur Zakarin next year, he hopes to one-day fill the role of captain for Rodriguez at a Grand Tour.
Cyclingnews spoke with Taaramäe over the phone while he was at the Katusha team camp. In the interview, Taaramäe recalled his early career, a seven-year term with Cofidis, his 2014 season with Astana and his move to Katusha for 2016.
Cyclingnews: Team Katusha is a new environment for you, you've recently met your new teammates at a camp in Calpe, Spain. How was that?
Rein Taaramäe: Everything has gone well, nothing has gone badly. Like in every camp, every team has their secrets, so I won't tell you everything, but the weather is good, it rained only on the rest days, so we could relax.
CN: You spent many years with Cofidis (2008-2014). Talk about your time with Cofidis, and then the one year you spent with Astana, which was your second WorldTour contract in 2015 (Cofidis was WorldTour in 2009)?
RT: There was a different mentality on the French team. The French are like revolutionists, and everyone follows the rules. Whether you are a team leader or not a team leader, everyone on that team was considered to be on the same level.
Astana had many nationalities; they spoke English, and the team leaders were Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali, and the riders were there to support them. It was completely different than Cofidis, which never really put riders around one team leader.
Every team has good things and bad things, I won't speak about the bad things, both Cofidis and Astana had things that I didn't like.
I liked Astana because the team was very, very strong. There were team leaders and everyone else knew what they had to do. It made racing much more easy; to stay in the front and do your job, everyone protected one rider, and it was much more easy to ride like that.
Cofidis is also a very, very good team with good organisation. In France life, there is always very good structure, and it was the same with the team. Astana was certainly a really big organisation, but the truth is that Cofidis had an even better organisation than Astana.
CN: Can you tell us about your development as a rider while on each team, what you learned about yourself while riding for each team?
RT: On Astana, I learned how to work for a team leader. I never had to race for a team leader before on Cofidis, so that was pretty cool, and a nice experience. Vincenzo was not so good this year - he will be better next year for sure - but I had always dreamt of being at the Tour de France racing with him.
In Cofidis, I learned everything from the start. I was young and really stupid when I turned pro. I trained well, but I didn't know how to be a professional; eating, the structure, everything. I had a very good nutritionist in Cofidis, and he taught me about what I needed to do, how to recover. I learned all of the steps of being a professional rider while at Cofidis.
I was also the team leader at Cofidis, so I've learned what that means and how to work for a team leader now in my career. When you have been the team leader before, you know what you need to do when it comes time for you to work for someone else. I have experience in what cards to play for a team leader in a race.
Also, that experience was good because, for example, at the Arctic Race of Norway this year I was told I would be the team leader, and I already knew what to do.
CN: You had some good results this year winning Vuelta a Burgos, Arctic Race of Norway and Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia. What was your main role on that team and do you expect to be in a similar role this year?
RT: It was not accepted that I was going to be the team leader at Burgos. I worked five days for my team. On the last climb I was pulling for the team but it was a long climb, and they just dropped off. It was a big surprise that I was so strong on the climb. It gave me a lot of confidence. Burgos gave me, even more, confidence than the Arctic Race because in Burgos… I've always wanted to be good in the mountains and before Burgos I didn't do too many races in the mountains. I started to believe in myself more at Burgos. The Arctic Race was nice but for me, the biggest race result was Burgos.
Many people don't see your smaller victories but when I looked at my data in Burgos I was very impressed, and I want to do what I did there again. If I can do what I did there, then I can do it anywhere.
I hope that I can show everyone that I can do the same in a bigger race, in WorldTour races, this year. My dream is to do well in the Grand Tours, and I will try to do my best in the Giro.
CN: Will the Giro d'Italia be your main target this year?
RT: I will do the Giro this year. I've never done that race before because during the last seven years I've always done the Tour de France. For me, it is time to change because you can't do the same program every year, it's not fun.
I won't be the only team leader at the Giro d'Italia. I will share that role with Ilnur Zakarin. At that race, we will take it day-by-day and see how it happens.
CN: What do you think of the Giro d'Italia course, what do you like about it?
RT: I like the parcours because there are many sprints this year, which means that it is a bit lighter. It starts in the Netherlands, and I'm not a 60kg-rider, I'm pretty tall, and there are three time trials, which is also good for me. I've already been top 10 in the Tour de France time trials three times, so I hope I can do well in those too. I need to improve my climbing a little bit, and I will then try to do my best.
Zakarin has a big future, from what I've seen from him this year.
CN: What about the Tour de France, will you race there in support of Joaquim Rodriguez?
RT: At the moment, the Tour de France is not on my program, but you never know because the program could change. But I'm happy to miss the Tour next year because I've done it for many years. To miss one Tour de France might give me more hunger to go back there again.
CN: Do you have a focus on shorter stages, do you like the shorter events like Paris-Nice, Algarve, Pais Vasco, Dauphine? Will you have some concentration on those events in 2016?
RT: I will start my season at the Tour Down Under, where I will be co-leader with Tiago Machado. Then I go to Algarve and Paris-Nice and Catalunya. In Paris-Nice, I will support Simon Spilak and in Catalunya, I will support Purrito.
CN: Rodriguez said that he is confident that you will fill the support role for him that was occupied by Dani Moreno, who moved to Movistar for next year. What are your thoughts on taking over that role for Rodriguez?
RT: I believe that Rodriquez is correct. I really love Purrito, he's my idol, and I really want to work for him. If that plan comes together, I can be a really good captain for him.
CN: But his focus will be on the Tour de France, and you won't be at the Tour de France. What races will you support him at?
RT: Yes, this is the problem. When I look at my program we only have one race together; Tour of Catalunya, so I don't really know where we will meet again. I hope the team will take me to the Vuelta a Espana during the last part of the year, but it's not on the list. You never know, though, schedules change.
CN: You've started eight Grand Tours during your career, with your best results being a stage win at the Vuelta in 2011 and 11th overall at the Tour de France in 2011, the only year that you've started two Grand Tours. Would you like to be given more leadership roles in the Grand Tours?
RT: My goal is always to improve, I'm not happy with my results up until now. When I was 23-years-old I was 11th at the Tour de France, and yes, that was impressive, but now I want to do better.
I had been injured [mononucleosis and a broken hand in 2012, and larynx obstruction followed by surgery in 2014, - Ed.] and it took me several years to find my legs. I found my real level only just last year. I really believe that I can improve. Yes, I hope that I can become the team leader at the big tours.
When I was young, I remember when Purrito won his first race at the WorldTour level. He was only 28. I'm that same age now, and I hope that everything will just start now for me. I've worked very hard, changed my training, my team, and I feel like, at the moment, my body is good, so I hope to have a good year.