2011 Vuelta a España, stage 14, Taaramae wins
Rein Taaramae wins stage 14. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

POLA DE SOMIEDO, Spain (VN) — Rein Taaramae has been a “rider to watch” for the past few seasons.

The tall Estonian is not shy when it comes to attacking, but he’s been roundly criticized for not knowing when to fire his artillery. Too young, too impulsive, the French insiders would say.

Taaramae, who’s been close to big wins since turning pro in 2008, proved Saturday that youthful exuberance sometimes pays off. He bravely fought all the way to the line, losing David de la Fuente (Geox-TMC) in the final kilometers to solo home for the biggest win of his young, but promising career.

“I have been close before, but this is the first time I have won in a grand tour,” Taaramae said. “This means the world to me. Some say I attack without thinking, but I attack because I want to win. This confirms what kind of rider I am.”

The victory is the second for Cofidis in this Vuelta and confirmation that Taaramae deserved the attention he’s garnering.

Taaramae’s made steady progress since turning pro with Cofidis in 2008, winning the Tour de l’Ain in 2009, placing third in the 2010 Volta a Catalunya and taking fourth in Paris-Nice this year. He exceeded expectations at this year’s Tour de France, riding to 12th and finishing second in the best young rider’s category to Pierre Rolland.

The 24-year-old seemed up to his old tricks earlier in this Vuelta, when he went on a solo flier in the hilly eighth stage at El Escorial only to be caught and passed by Joaquim Rodríguez on the final wall.

“I wouldn’t have attacked if I had known it was so f–king hard,” Taaramae said at the line that day.

It was even harder in Saturday’s three-climb 14th stage finishing atop the new Farrapona climb, but he dug deep after nearly pulling out of the Vuelta with a fever.

“I got sick from air conditioning and I had a temperature of 39C. I barely could stay in the Vuelta,” he said. “I felt better yesterday and I knew that today was a day to attack to try to win. I thought everyone would be tired, but I was surprised that so many riders went into the move today. In the end, it was just me and De la Fuente. I didn’t believe in the victory until De la Fuente dropped back.”

De la Fuente, meanwhile, paid an even bigger price by playing the role of faithful teammate when he sat up late to help tow Cobo across the line and sacrificing his chances for the stage victory.

2011 Vuelta a España, stage 14, Taaramae and De la Fuente
Rein Taaramae and David De la Fuente appeared to be headed for a two-up sprint, until De la Fuente sat up to wait for teammate Juan Jose Cobo. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

De la Fuente, 30, has a strong finishing kick and likely could have taken away Taaramae’s glory, but he proved faithful to team orders, sitting up and pacing the attacking Cobo across the line.

Cobo finished second, earned a 12-second time bonus, and clawed his way into overall contention with fourth at 55 seconds back. De la Fuente took a bittersweet third on a day when Geox-TMC played for all the marbles and gave up on a chance to win a stage.

“I take full responsibility for the decision. De la Fuente probably would have won because he is faster than Taaramae,” said Geox-TMC sport director Matxin Fernández. “We played for everything and gave up something smaller. I made a professional decision, but at the personal level, it was hard to make.”

De la Fuente, who won the most combative award in the 2006 Tour de France, hasn’t won a race since the GP Miguel Indurain in 2009. Despite his two-year drought, he said helping Cobo was the right call.

“I am Cobo’s friend and when the team asked me to help him after he attacked, I did so without a doubt,” De la Fuente said. “Now I confide that they will know what this gesture means.”

De la Fuente was obviously hoping that the team would not forget him when it comes time to talking contracts.

Fernández, meanwhile, said Cobo will try again up the Angliru in Sunday’s stage. One more big push and Cobo could be in the red leader’s jersey.