Rein Taaramae (Katusha) proved that he has finished the Giro d’Italia in excellent condition by riding to a dominant solo victory in the Tour de Slovenie queen stage. Having been set up by his teammate Pavel Kochetkov, he dropped his final companion Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEDGE) with less than 2km to go and then powered to the top of the final climb with a 36-second advantage, with Egan Bernal (Androni) crossing the line in third. Taaramae also took the leader’s jersey on the eve of the time trial.
Last August Rein Taaramae finally left his many health issues behind and returned to his former status as one of the best riders for one-week stage races. The Estonian won the Vuelta a Burgos and Arctic Race of Norway and realized that more was possible.
However, he was locked in a domestique role at Astana so he joined Katusha to get more freedom. With Ilnur Zakarin showing excellent form, he again had to do the Giro d’Italia as a support rider but when his captain crashed out, he proved his class by winning the final big mountain stage.
This week Taaramae finally gets a chance to lead his team at the Tour de Slovenie and today he showed that he is still in great form as he crushed the opposition in the queen stage. After great work from teammate Pavel Kochetkov, the Estonian turned out to be in a class of his own as he put 36 seconds into second-placed Jack Haig on the final climb.
After the surprisingly hard first stage, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 217.7km between Nova Gorica and the Golte mountain. The first part was mainly flat, with just a single category 3 climb early in the stage, but then the climbing started at the midpoint with the category 1 Crni Vrh (11.9km, 5.7%). Another flat section led to the category 2 climb of Crnivec (17.5km, 4.2%) whose descent and a short flat section brought the riders to the final and hardest climb of the day. The category 1 mountain of Golte averaged 7.3% over 15.7km and had a maximum gradient of 23%.
It was nice weather when the riders gathered for the start and after a small mechanical for a Meridiana rider in the neutral zone, the flag was dropped a little delayed. There were lots of attacks in the first part and it briefly looked like a 10-rider group had gone clear. Instead, it was Gianfranco Zilioli (Nippo) who attacked just before the first intermediate sprint which he won before race leader Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) beat Francesco Gavazzi (Androni) in the battle for second.
Zilioli was brought back and instead Iuri Filosi (Nippo) and Jan Tratnik (Amplatz) attacked at the 17km mark. While their gap went out to a minute, Jon Bozic (Adria Mobil) took off in pursuit but he hadn’t made the junction when Tratnik beat Bozic in the first KOM sprint after 22km of racing.
At the 27km mark, Bozic made the junction and so a trio had formed with an advantage of three minutes. Moments later, Filosi beat Bozic and Tratnik in the second intermediate sprint.
Adria Mobil took control in the peloton and kept the gap stable at around 3 minutes. That prompted Kenny De Ketele and Preben Van Hecke to try to bridge across and they quickly got an advantage of 1.20 over the peloton before Tratnik beat Filosi and Bozic in the third intermediate sprint.
Van Hecke and De Ketele made the junction after 58km of racing where the gap had gone out to 4.30. It stayed around that mark for a long time which gave Filosi plenty of time to rejoin the group after a mechanical.
The front group hit the first of the three big climbs with a 5-minute advantage. Bozic had to let his companions go three kilometres from the top and a little later De Ketele also lost contact where Van Hecke beat Tratnik, Filosi and De Ketele in the KOM sprint. Bozic held on to take fifth.
The peloton had gone fast up the climb and so the gap was down to 3.40 when Mario Schoibl (Amplatz) became the third rider to leave the race. De Ketele and Bozic joined forces but were already 1.30 behind and soon decided to wasit for the peloton.
When Filosi beat Tratnik and Van Hecke in the fourth intermediate sprint at the 129.6km mark, the gap had again gone out to five minutes but when they hit the second big climb, the lead had been reduced to four minutes. Here Nils Politt (Katusha) and Simone Sterbini (Bardiani) attacked but Politt was brought back before Tratnik beat Van Heck and Filosi in the KOM sprint. The peloton reached the top 3 minutes later.
Christoph Pfingsten (Bora-Argon 18) crashed out of the race on the descent where the front trio looked like they had given up. Tratnik decided to sit up but Van Heck and Filosi gave it another go.
The peloton had been whittled down significantly when they hit the final 25km more than 3 minutes behind the leaders. Sterbini was still ahead of them while Tratnik was one minute behind the leaders. Tratnik and Sterbini joined forces 2.30 behind the leaders but as the peloton started to fight for position for the final climb, they were brought back.
As soon as they hit the climb, Filosi left Van Hecke behind but it was all in vain as the Italian was brought back. Instead, Rodolfo Torres (Androni) attacked with 9km to go and it was Domen Novak (Adria Mobil) and Nic Dougall (Dimesnion Data) who set off in pursuit. However, they were all brought back six kilometres from the top.
It was a gradual elimination and only 12 riders were left when they passed the 4km to go banner. That’s where Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEDGE) and the Katusha pair of Rein Taaramae and Pavel Kochetkov got a small advantage. The latter emptied himself for his teammate and then left it to Taaramae and Haig to press on.
The two leaders increased their advantage as Taaramae just kept riding on the front. Haig did his best to follow but just before the flamme rouge he had to surrender. Taaramae pushed on to win the stage by 36 seconds while Egan Bernal was 14 seconds further adrift in third. Kochetkov took fourth and Jure Golcer (Adria Moil) was the best Slovenian in fifth.
With the win, Taaramae now leads Haig by 36 seconds. He faces another stern test tomorrow in the 16.8km time trial. The first 10km are for the powerful specialists but then the climbing hostilities start as the final 6.8km are almost all uphill. First there’s a 1.5km climb with a 16% section and then a short, flat section leads to a climb that averages 6.4%. The final part of the stage is a long, gradual rise.
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