NARVIK, Norway (VN) — For a rider in the hunt for a new contract, August can be a tense month, where every race is a critical opportunity to put on a show for potential suitors in the thick of transfer season. As stressful as it may be, it’s hard to imagine the month of August going any better for Rein Taaramäe, who is nearing the end of a one-year contract with Astana.
On August 8, the 28-year-old from Estonia sealed an overall victory in Spain’s Vuelta a Burgos. Then he took on the Arctic Race of Norway, where on Sunday he nabbed the overall win, getting into a small late move off the front of the pack and opening up enough of a gap over race leader Ben Hermans (BMC Racing) to snatch the jersey and ultimately the title in the final stage.
The road to consistent stage race success has been a long one for Taaramäe. As a young up-and-comer with Cofidis, he looked primed for a bright GC future after winning the Tour de l’Ain in 2009 and nabbing podiums in various stage races like the Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie, before taking a stage win in the 2011 Vuelta a España. Then he hit an extended rough patch, with health issues bringing him down time and time again. He only started to resurface as a GC rider in the 2014 Tour of Turkey, when he won a stage and took second overall.
“I always had good talent but I had some hard years,” Taaramäe said at the post-Arctic Race press conference. “Mononucleosis in 2012 after a very good start of season. After, I broke my hand, I crashed. And after, I had some breathing problems. I used every treatment that was possible because everybody said it was asthma, but finally [I learned that] I had a laryngeal obstruction in the inside of my [throat].
“After that was solved, I won in Turkey. Everything’s gone well after, so that was the main problem.”
Taaramäe’s 2014 resurgence inspired Astana to sign him to a one-year deal, and he hasn’t disappointed in 2015. Although he had to abandon the Tour de France after falling sick, he bookended his Tour ride with a win in the Vuelta a Murcia, his first race of the season, and he has now had a stellar August, putting on a pair of solid performances powered by strong climbing legs and an aggressive approach.
But just as Taaramäe is hitting his stride, and just when it seemed like Astana might have found yet another powerhouse all-rounder to go with a stable of grand tour stars, Taaramäe appears to be headed elsewhere for 2016 now that his contract with Astana is nearly done.
“I’m pretty sure that I will leave the team,” Taaramäe said when asked of his situation.
Taaramäe declined to comment when asked about his particular motivations for not wanting to re-up with Astana. In any case, as one might expect, he has plenty of suitors with his back-to-back stage race victories this month.
“There are many teams, and with two teams I’m very close,” Taaramäe said. “I think in the coming week I can [decide].”
With his early career results, and his recent successes in Burgos and northern Norway, Taaramäe has shown himself to be a dangerous contender in the one-week races. He is also a proven threat for stage wins in the grand tours. That seems to be enough for Taaramäe, who is quick to temper expectations of a potential career as an overall contender in the three-week races.
“I can win stages in grand tours but I don’t want to be a team leader,” Taaramäe said. “I’m not sure if I have enough talent to win or to do top 6 or top 3 in the big tours. I need to be a little bit protected.
“For example, if I have a team leader and something happens with him, if I stay in the classification I can take the leadership, but I don’t want the team to come for me at the start of the season and prepare only for that because I’m not sure about that. One-week races, I can do well, but big races … maybe I don’t have enough talent.”
Realistic about what he is capable of achieving as a contender in his own right, Taaramäe says he’s on the lookout for a squad that will give him more freedom to set his calendar and ride some of his own races, but also one that won’t rely on him to be a grand tour contender.
Grand tour stars are always prized commodities on the transfer market, but strong all-round talents with proven track records in one-week events who aren’t afraid to put in the work for teammates draw plenty of interest as well. Taaramäe has shown emphatically that he fits that bill.
The one-year deal he signed with Astana has worked out quite well for him — he now has the freedom to leverage his recent success into a nice new contract with his pick of several suitors. Finally hitting his stride several years after he first showed his potential, Taaramäe could have hardly come around at a better time.