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Currently second overall in the Tour de France, Bauke Mollema has been the big surprise of this year’s race. The 29 year old was previously sixth, 10th and seventh in the past three editions of the race but has jumped up a level this time around.
He and Richie Porte were the only riders able to go with Chris Froome when the Briton attacked on Mont Ventoux. Mollema actually finished ahead of both after they were snarled up in an incident with race motorbikes, but an appeal by Froome’s Sky team led to them ultimately being given the same time.
He ended the day third overall then advanced a place with a strong ride in the stage 13 time trial. Mollema heads into Monday’s stage 16 one minute and 47 seconds adrift of the yellow jersey of Chris Froome.
His strong performance begs the question: how far can he go in this year’s race, and in the future?
Kim Andersen is the Trek-Segafredo directeur sportif guiding him on the race. He’s previously filled the same role with riders such as Andy and Frank Schleck and suggested that the team will play things conservatively in the days ahead.
Second overall is already ahead of expectations, and losing that is something they wish to avoid.
“We don’t expect that we will attack a lot,” he told CyclingTips when asked about likely tactics. “If we do we will attack maybe in the end of the stage because I don’t think we should do the same mistake like Andorra — attack too early and then lose seconds.
“I know we should always go for the win but I think we also quite happy where we are for now.”
The news may be a little deflating for those who wish to see a humdinger of a battle in the final week. That might yet happen if a rider such as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) returns to his previous level, but Anderson suggests that Mollema won’t set out to be a big aggressor.
That said, he indicated the team will grab opportunities if there are openings.
“You can challenge but it’s not easy. We know Sky have a strong team, we are not really prepared for it but we will try to do the best we can. Like today [stage 14], we will play with people in the front and so we can have the best help available. And then I think it’s about defending what we have, and if there are openings, then we will go for it.”
“He made a very, very good impression straight away”
Mollema appeared calm and not particularly fatigued at the end of stage 14. He rolled to the Trek team bus, took a shower and then emerged to speak to TV and print media.
“There were, I think, two to three kilometres that were really steep,” he said. “Sky did a good pace on the climb, especially after the attacks from [Fabio] Aru and Valverde. It was a hard day today but I felt good. One day less to Paris.
“I think van Garderen’s lost a lot of time today, so that’s one guy less to think about. So that’s always good. The rest of the guys looked really strong. Aru attacked but he never got away.”
Asked if he believed he could catch Froome in the overall standings, he said that it would depend on the Briton weakening. “It’s going to be really hard. He’s the big favourite and he really needs to have a bad day for that.”
In both 2013 and 2015 Froome held yellow to Paris but had nervous times in the final week due to tiredness. Reminded of this, Andersen said that the team and Mollema will hope that happens again. “It could be fun,” he smiled.
CyclingTips asked him if he was surprised by the Dutchman’s performance.
“I believed that he was in better shape than last year because he had a lot of problems before last year’s Tour. But we also thought that there were a lot of guys who could be up there for the top 10, so it could even be hard to be top 10. But he made a very, very good impression straight away and he’s very confident.”
So did Mollema do anything different this year to help him be in such good condition?
“No no, he just kept working,” he answered. “He’s a big, big worker and he’s very focused. Very, very focused. It was just a small back problem and so on last year but with that he could not really train how he would like to do.
“This year everything had went quite well. He’s also in an age that he can go better and better. Also because he started cycling very, very late. I think he was over 18. Mostly you start young, but he had his first race around 18.
“He is a person though that can go a step up always. He’s only 29. He’s even not in maybe in the best age for GC rider.”
Mollema is into the final week of this year’s Tour and, providing he keeps performing well, could end up on the podium in Paris. Few would have predicted that but he’s certainly been riding strongly.
CyclingTips asked Andersen what a podium finish would mean for his future.
“This year the parcours and the start of the Tour was perfect for him. It’s not without too much stress, not too much chrono [time trial],” he said. “I still believe that he can get better, because he is at an age where he can improve and he started late. So you never know where it will end up…”