Cofidis rider Rein Taaramäe has admitted that he contemplated quitting cycling after two wilderness years lost to injuries and bad health.
But - with the current Tour of Turkey’s leader's jersey set fairly firmly on his shoulders - he is enjoying the moment and the return to the spotlight that last fell strongly upon him at the 2011 Vuelta a Espanña. The Estonian won the summit finish to Lagos la Somiedo on stage 14, and earlier that year finished 11th at the Tour de France.
A month ago, Taaramäe underwent a larynx operation in Estonia to remove an obstruction that was inhibiting his breathing. The results appear to have been successful.
Nevertheless, the recently-turned 27-year-old is taking nothing for granted. Taaramäe said he still waiting to confirm if the surgery has completely alleviated the breathing problem.
"It's too early to say," he told Cyclingnews on Thursday at the start of stage 5 in Marmaris. "[After the operation] I did three one-day races, Paris-Camembert, Tour du Finistère, and La Flèche Wallonne just before and I was really bad."
However, after the opening to flat stages on Turkey’s southwest coast, the "old sensations” began to return. And before the start of the decisive stage three to Elmali - the longest and hilliest stage of the eight-day tour - he modestly tipped himself for a strong showing.
He said: "I worried, but then I came here and I passed two flat stages and I felt so good – the old sensations of before – and I started to think, to dream, I could do something really good on the hard stage."
He attacked a group of favourites 3km from the summit and beat his co-attacker Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) by six seconds.
During two years of struggle for form his only victories were in two national championship races. Despite the drought, Taaramäe - who turned pro with Cofidis eight years ago and carried the weight of high expectation as a stage racer - said he never felt direct pressure from the squad to perform. He felt its concern growing, however.
"Sometimes I felt the questions they asked of me: 'are you training ok?' 'are you eating ok?'" he said. "It wasn't just the team but my friends and my old trainers too – the guys who were helping me before. My head was completely messed up," he admitted.
"After two years like that. I started to think I couldn't do anything this year and maybe I would finish in cycling. Maybe not this year, but I hoped to do one more year to try and get it back and if it didn't come…"
Luckily for Taaramäe, the queen stage win that he is likely to convert into overall victory in Istanbul on Sunday is likely to give him the breathing space to contemplate a suddenly brighter looking future.
For now he said he is just enjoying the revived attention the turquoise jersey has brought. "I live in the moment and I'd love to stay in this moment."