Estonian grew up racing with Rein Taaramae and is finding his legs as a top domestique for Vincenzo Nibali at the Giro d'Italia
IVREA, Italy (VN) — One of the key men of confidence for overall leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in this Giro d’Italia, Tanel Kangert, got the green light to attack on Tuesday and nearly broke through with a stage 16 win.
The 26-year-old Estonian is hardly known beyond the peloton, but he’s earning well-deserved attention so far through this Giro. Kangert has been one of the strongest and most consistent riders for Astana, and he came within a few pedal strokes of victory in Tuesday’s transition stage to Ivrea.
Kangert, who hails from the same hometown as the sport’s other top Estonian rider, Rein Taaramae, told VeloNews that the team is pushing into the final decisive moments of the Giro with its confidence higher than ever.
“I hope Nibali is doing just as good as he’s done in the last two weeks. The team is strong, and we have some guys coming back from illness,” Kangert told VeloNews at the start in Valloire. “Everyone is ready for the final fight.”
At 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds, Kangert has emerged as one of three key lieutenants for Nibali in the mountains of the 96th Giro. Along with Valerio Agnoli and Fabio Aru, Kangert is one of the men Nibali has counted on come crunch time.
“I haven’t had a grand tour where I have been performing so well. I hope to be well in the last week. I hope to keep going into the final week,” said Kangert. “We all want to be up to the level to help Vincenzo.”
Behind the scenes, Kangert said Nibali has quietly grown into the leadership role at Astana.
After racing several seasons with Liquigas, Nibali came to the Kazakhstan-backed squad, bringing a few key men along with him. Kangert said Nibali was remaining calm after two weeks of stressful racing on technical roads and in poor weather conditions.
“He is a natural leader. He is very calm and relaxed. He is not yelling at anyone. He gives us confidence on the team,” he said. “It’s no big surprise for us how well he’s doing during this Giro. It shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone because he’s shown over the past few years that he is a quality rider. He has shown that he is a three-week racer. We have prepared for this Giro starting back in November.”
Kangert, meanwhile, is stepping up in his third season with Astana. After racing on the French amateur scene, he turned pro with Ag2r La Mondiale in 2008. A knee injury almost derailed his career, but Astana gave him a second chance in 2011.
Last year, he won the Estonian national road title as well as a stage at the Tour de Suisse. He was third in the stage 8 individual time trial, but Kangert said his future remains as a domestique.
“I am not a climbing specialist, nor a time trialist. I do a bit of everything,” he explained. “I will have the same role in the team for the next few years. It’s not a bad thing to be a supporting rider for someone like Nibali. This is a good team for me right now. I have one more year with Astana.”
On Tuesday, Kangert had freedom to cover the moves on the technical finishing circuit in Ivrea. Once again, it was part of his job.
“Tanel had freedom to attack today,” Nibali said. “It was good to have the time bonuses.”
Kangert might have been the strongest in the group, but he mis-timed his sprint and lost out to Beñat Intxausti (Movistar).
Tomorrow, it’s back to helping Nibali.
“What we’re most concerned about is the weather,” he said. “We’re not expecting for big improvements in the weather. We just have to accept it. When you have bad rain from start to end, there is big suffering. No one is comfortable. Those are the days you have to survive. The rain is ok; we can accept that. If there is snow, then the race organizers have to do something. It’s too dangerous.”