Rein Taaramae of Cofidis has revelaed that his victory in today's Stage 14 of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana came just three days after he almost abandoned the race through illness. The Estonian's victory on the summit of La Farrapona came on a day on which Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins strengthened his grip on the overall lead, with team mate and fellow Briton Chris Froome moving into second place as GC rivals, notably defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, struggled.
"I had a sore throat at the end of last week and I got really sick during the rest day," revealed the 24-year-old Taaramae after his win. "My body temperature went up to 39°. I wasn’t feeling well at all.
"The day after, I rode alone, so far behind my team-mate David Moncoutié who won the stage. I was thinking of pulling out of the Vuelta and I must thank my directeur sportif Stéphane Augé who supported me. He was saying: 'I know how you’re feeling, I’ve experienced that as well, but stay in the race, hang on until the finish line!'
"With 35km to go, I got rejoined by the grupetto of the sprinters and they dropped me off with 15km to go. It was terrible. I thought I’d never recover. The day after (stage 12), I wasn’t feeling any better. Yesterday, I improved and today I’m the winner.
"It’s a bit of a miracle," he confessed.
Talking of how he came to be in today's break, Taaramae said: "I intended to remain quiet but on the last attack, I followed the move and I thought that the peloton would follow as well. I looked behind, we were eighteen riders. It was the right breakaway and I was worried because I was feared to not be able to make it till the end.
Rein Taaramae in today's break (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
"Until 5km to go with [Geox-TMC rider David] De la Fuente, I thought we’d be caught. I was afraid of him, so I attacked with 2km to go. I don’t know if he waited for Cobo or if he cracked but at that stage, I was sure to be the winner.
Taaramae, who turned pro with Cofidis in 2008, believes his victory today was long overdue. "I needed such a win! My last one was two years ago at the Tour de l’Ain. I was missing a great victory at World Tour level. I was often well placed at stage races but I wasn’t winning. I ended up doubting about my capacity to win a race, but today is all good."
It was a good day too for Team Sky, with Bradley Wiggins now 36 seconds ahead of Bauke Mollema of Rabpbank in third place, one of only a handful of riders near the top of the overall standings who were able to stay with the race leader and the ever-present Froome, who rises to second overall after finishing fifth on the stage, immediately behind Wiggins.
It was also an emotional day for Team Sky, whose riders today wore black armbands in memory of their carer Txema Gonzalez, who died a year ago today, leading to the team pulling out of its first Vuelta.
Wiggins and Froome, both with black armbands, complete Vuelta Stage 14 (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
“I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but my team were great again and I wouldn’t be in this position without them," admitted WIggins.
“We are another day closer to the end now but tomorrow [when there is a summit finish on the Angliru] is a very hard stage. We will continue to fight all the way until the end and hopefully that will be enough to win this red jersey.
“I’m feeling good and I felt strong on the climb. It still hurts of course and it’s certainly not easy but everybody else is hurting as well. This race is about who can suffer for the longest.
“The Angliru is going to be extremely difficult, but as I said before, it is difficult for everyone and I will just have to fight all the way again.
“Gaining some time is a big boost for my confidence today and should make things a little bit easier.”
Froome added: “I got the best feeling in the world when I heard on the radio that a few other GC contenders got dropped. Bradley has been incredible. He’s in a super condition.
"For me, he’s the one who deserves to win this race. That was our objective today to try and get some time over our adversaries before the Angliru tomorrow and we did it. Personally, I’m up for contract and my future is still undecided but I hope to make a decision soon.”
While Team Sky were enjoying a successful day, Vincenzo Nibali, winner of the 2010 edition, was left to rue a stage that saw him drop from second to seventh overall.
The Liquigas-Cannondale rider was the most prominent of those who found it impossible to keep pace with the tempo being set by Wiggins and Froome at the front of the GC group, losing a minute and 21 seconds to the Team Sky riders.
Astana's Fredrik Kessiakoff,just 9 seconds off the race lead this morning, also slipped down the overall standings, and now lies sixth, just two seconds ahead of Nibali.
Nibali and Kessiakoff find the going tough on the day's last climb (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
“In the climb of San Lorenzo, I was feeling well but in the last one, at some stage, I went flat. I maybe didn’t feed myself well," Nibali disclosed. "There wasn’t much time to eat though. Once I got dropped, I’ve tried to avoid the damage. A weakness like that can happen to anyone, even to the best riders. Tomorrow will be another day. It’s going to be hard and it’ll be a different battle.”
For Kessiakoff, the issue today was the effect of not having fully recovered from what has been a tough week. "I had a problem last night. I didn’t sleep well, so I’m happy that I limited the loss today," said the Swede.
"It could have been much worse," he continued. "It’s still great to be where I stand on GC at this point of the race. There’s one more day of suffering up the Angliru, then I’ll be able to rest and the last week seems a little bit easier.”
Juan Jose Cobo of Geox-TMC had more to celebreate than most of those who had started the day in the top ten overall.
The 30-year-old, from Cantabria, had attacked from the GC group midway through today;s final climb, and with team mate David De La Fuente ahead on the road from the earlier break, was able to use his help to ride into second place on the stage and fourth overall.
No pain, no gain for Cobo as he crosses the line (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
"The favourites didn’t respond to my attack, not because they weren’t watchful but because they were missing strength," said Cobo following the stage.
"I’ve recovered some time on GC, that’s what I was looking for. To have passed riders like Nibali, who was the great favourite, and “Purito” [Joaquin Rodriguez] is important.
"We’ll see how it goes tomorrow for the four riders who also still intend to win. The Angliru doesn’t exactly suit me but it also doesn’t suit Wiggins. I hope to position myself in the top 3, that would be great.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.