IN THE PACK: Rein Taaramae rode a strong race this year representing Estonia’s best finish ever.
RIGA - Rein Taaramae has produced the best ever result by an Estonian at the Tour de France, completing the world’s most famous cycling race in 12th position overall and second in the young rider standings.
Competing in le Tour for just the second time, the 24-year-old rode impressively, remaining in contact with the leading riders throughout the 21 stages to finish in a total time of 86 hours, 23 minutes and 51 seconds, 11 minutes and 29 seconds behind Le Tour’s overall winner, Cadel Evans of Australia, who became the first Australian to win the race. It was also the first time that Taaramae crossed the finish line on the Champs-Elysees in Paris after last year being forced to pull out of the race following the 12th stage.
Going into Sunday’s final stage, in which the tour reached its destination in Paris, Taaramae told fans via his Estonian language blog that he only had one real disappointment: the fact that he rode so well only to come up so agonizingly short of achieving his goal of standing atop one of the podiums in Paris, finishing a mere 46 seconds behind France’s Pierre Rolland in the battle for Le Tour’s white jersey, which is awarded to the best young rider.
Over the opening stages, the white jersey was worn by Great Britain’s Geraint Thomas, but once the race began to move into the hills on stage seven, the Brit would move back in the standings, while Taaramae was able to make his move forward. Unfortunately, however, he was not the only rider making his surge towards the white jersey with Robert Gesink of the Netherlands beating off Taaramae to be wearing the top at the end of the day.
Gesink would continue to wear the jersey until the 12th stage, but on a day when the Dutchman faltered, Taaramae could not pounce, with Frenchman Arnold Jeannesson keeping Taaramae in second spot.
At the end of stage 14 the white jersey would again change hands, but once more, Taaramae would miss his chance with Colombia’s Uran Rigoberto taking over the honors.
Over the following stages Taaramae chipped away at Rigoberto’s advantage and finally, on stage 18, his time would come to claim the jersey. Finishing a hilly stage 18 in eighth position, Taaramae got to put on the white jersey for the first time ever, with Rigoberto finishing the stage over four minutes behind the Estonian.
However, his time in white was short-lived with the jersey disappearing from his back a day later, when young Frenchman Pierre Rolland won a tough stage to the top of the Alpe d’Huez. Despite finishing the day in 14th; two minutes and six seconds behind Rolland, the Frenchman had done enough to claim the jersey and Taaramae was pushed back to third spot, trailing by two minutes and six seconds.
Taaramae’s only real chance to claim the jersey back came on Saturday’s penultimate stage – a 42.5 km individual time trial. Taaramae rode strongly, completing the trial with the 10th best time, giving him his third top ten finish of the tour, but it would not be enough to get him back in white with Rolland holding on by 46 seconds.
On Sunday’s final and most prestigious stage, when the riders arrive in Paris, the riders traditionally do not attack for any jerseys, except for the green jersey, which is awarded to the sprinter who has acquired the most points throughout the race. The tradition was once again upheld this year, meaning Taaramae would have to settle for second spot in the young rider standings and 12th in the overall standings, one minute and 18 seconds outside of a top ten finish.
Whilst Taaramae did not get his chance to stand atop the podium, one other Baltic rider was getting his. Riding for United States-based Team Garmin-Cervelo, Ramunas Navardauskas of Lithuania was able to assist his team in completing the race with the best overall time for a team.
Navardauskas completed the race in 157th position, three hours, 36 minutes and 53 seconds behind Evans. His best stage finish came on the second day, when he played an integral part in getting his team across the finish line in the team time trial in first position.
Navardauskas’ compatriot Tomas Vaitkus finished slightly ahead of him in 140th position, three hours, 20 minutes and seven seconds behind Evans. Vaitkus’ best finish for a stage would come on Le Tour’s final day, when he crossed the line on the Champs-Elysees in eighth.