Leading Estonian cyclist Rein Taaramae has continued to show some promising early season form by last week finishing second in the Vuelta a Andalucia, which took place in the Andalusion region of Spain. Coming off a third placing in the Etoiles de Besseges in southern France earlier in the year, Taaramae again showed the class that saw him finish 11th overall in last year’s Tour de France, ending the four-stage tour in 16 hours, eight minutes and 52 seconds; just three seconds behind race winner, Alejandro Valverde of Spain. The 24-year-old’s best individual stage finish came on the second day when he finished third on stage 2. Coming home at the rear of the field as the 103rd rider of the 104 to complete the race was Lithuania’s Ignatas Konovalovas, 22 minutes and 14 seconds down on Valverde. With strong results already behind him so early in the season, Taaramae will again be focusing his training toward July’s Tour de France, where the Cofidis team rider will be expecting to claim his first top-ten finish.
Ernests Gulbis’ disappointing start to 2012 continued in Memphis, USA last week, where the Latvian was bundled out of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in the opening round. Coming up against rising sensation Milos Raonic of Canada, the former world no. 21 was easily disposed of, losing out in straight sets 6-2, 7-6(3). The latest loss sees the temperamental Latvian’s world ranking take another major hit, now dropping to 78. Having entered three tournaments to date this season, Gulbis has yet to record a victory, with his only two wins coming earlier in February when he represented Latvia in a Davis Cup tie against Egypt. This week the 23-year-old is hoping to experience a change in form when he returns to one of his happiest hunting grounds, Delray Beach. Back in 2010 the then up-and-coming Latvian was able to record his maiden ATP tournament victory, which many predicted was just the beginning of things to come. However, his form since then has been erratic at best with just one more tournament victory coming in Los Angeles in 2011.
With three wins in their last three regular season games, premier Baltic ice-hockey club Dinamo Riga has been able to finish the regular season of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in seventh position in the Western Conference. The confirmation of seventh spot and a best-of-seven match up against second placed Western Conference club Torpedo came on February 22nd, with two games still to play in the regular season after the Riga-based club defeated Sibir 2-1, whilst their closest rivals, eighth-placed CSKA lost 1-0 on the road to Dinamo Minsk. With the pressure off, Pekka Rautakallio and his team treated the fans that turned out at Arena Riga for the final two regular season games with some crowd-pleasing offensive minded hockey, scoring seven goals over the course of two games. Rautakallio can also take heart in the performance of Maris Jucers in goal. Opting to give his backup goalie some much needed ice time, Jucers repaid his coach kindly with performances that showed that should anything happen to regular starting goalie Chris Holt, he is ready to take over the goaltending duties. The first two games of the seven-game series take place on the road, beginning the night after The Baltic Times went to print. The second game will be played on Thursday before the teams travel to Arena Riga for games three and four on Saturday and Sunday. In the past two seasons Dinamo Riga has won through the first round of the playoffs before falling in the conference semifinals.