Nine years into his pro career, Bauke Mollema still has the boyish appearance of a neo-pro. His angled, narrow facial features and short-cropped hair give way to an often-present youthful smile. He speaks softly whether he’s won a race or if cycling’s abrupt uncertainties have just instigated havoc.
About six weeks ago, Mollema, 29, reached a career pinnacle. After three top-10 finishes in five previous Tour de France participations, the veteran Dutch rider and Trek-Segafredo team leader had pedaled well in the mountains and was second in the general classification with three days left. It was the second time Mollema had advanced into second overall with the podium in Paris on the horizon. And it was the second time the opportunity faded.
Three years ago, Mollema was also second overall at the Tour after the second rest day, but he was stymied by illness and finished sixth. This year, he crashed late in stage 19 and finished 11th overall.
“I was in the best shape of my career and had some bad luck, but that’s how it is,” said Mollema in Lethbridge, Alberta, on the eve of his 2015 title defense of the Tour of Alberta which continues through September 5. “I bounced back with the win at San Sebastian, and then I experienced the Olympics for the first time. It’s been a crazy few months.
“I think it’s the experience of the Tour now for me is why I was better this year. I had good preparation and good support from the team. I focused on my time trialing more because I know it would be important. The Tour was my focus for the year and even though in the Dauphine I had an infection in my throat, everybody stayed calm and supported me. I think the experience this year will help me for next year. I know what to expect and that gives me a certain calm about it.”
Mollema’s 17th place in the Olympic road race wasn’t exactly what had hoped for, either. He had several early bike changes and eventually lost contact with the contenders. But whether it’s winning Clasica San Sebastian, his seventh ProTour career victory, faltering while in prime podium contention in Grand Tours, or enduring the common illnesses that infiltrate the pro peloton, Mollema has made a career of riding calm. It’s apparent in his smooth riding cadence and in his even-keeled demeanor.
The temperament is common among inhabitants of Mollema’s native city, Zuidhorn, as it is throughout the northern region of the Netherlands. Its corresponding saying, “Doe maar gewoon, dat is gek genoeg,” doesn’t have an exact translation. But the cyclist is prideful of its characteristics.
“I’m not sure if there are words for it in English, but it’s something like ‘stay with two feet on the ground,’ ” Mollema said. “It’s not getting too crazy in difficult circumstances. For sure, I have it and it helps. After the Tour, it was a difficult few days, but it’s how I came back for San Sebastian and kept my focus for a race I like a lot.”
“It’s what I have done in cycling, to look forward after bad luck and disappointment. It depends on how you view it. It’s just something I’ve always had.”
Mollema’s Tour of Alberta defense will begin with his 60th racing day this season. His campaign began in late January and will continue through late October when he plans to defend his 2015 Japan Cup title.
“I like the long season; it was the same for me last year when I also started in late January,” Mollema said. “I take a small break after the classics in April and again after the Tour. I think it’s important. If you train well, rest well, and keep your diet, it’s possible to race the long season. Just look at (Alejandro) Valverde. He races the whole year.”
Mollema, who has two more years on his current contract, has now ridden in 13 classics and has four top-10 overall finishes in 10 Grand Tours. His seven career wins statistically define his career consistency and versatility. He’s had at least one stage race victory or one-day race for four straight years.
“I started cycling quite late (he didn’t compete until age 18),” said Mollema. “I feel like I can go like this for many years. I still feel fresh. I have progressed a lot. But it’s not only just cycling now, there’s much things that come with it, other responsibilities and things that happen, like the injuries. But I think I can handle it quite well. I really like riding my bicycle and I hope I can keep progressing as a rider for many years.”
Mollema won in Alberta last year by taking the race lead after he crossed the line first when his squad claimed the opening day team time trial. He regained the lead when he finished second to countryman Tom-Jelte Slagter (Canondale-Drapac) on the Stage 3 mountaintop finish to Jasper National Park. He retained his advantage for the final three days to finish victorious with a six-second margin over Great Britain’s Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge).
It was the first time Mollema had been part of a team time trial win, and it was his first stage race title since the 2007 Tour de l’Avenir.
This year’s Tour of Alberta is void of a team time trial or a mountain stage, and it’s one day shorter than last year. Stage 4 is a short (12km) individual time trial in Edmonton, with the remaining stages ideally set for sprinters, breakaway specialists or tacticians who fare well when the expected strong winds could split the field.
Mollema is uncertain of his form after taking a week’s break following the Olympic road race.
Which rider will emerge as Trek-Segafredo’s team leader is also unknown, but the squad’s composition includes Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, 35, and Frank Schleck, 36, of Luxembourg. The veteran stage race riders are both competing in the final season of their respective careers.
“It will be interesting with a guy like Ryder being Canadian and him riding his last stage race here,” said Mollema, perhaps hinting the team will ride for the former Giro d’Italia winner. “He has so much experience; we will see what happens.”
About the author
James Raia has reported on cycling for more than 30 years and is co-author of Tour de France For Dummies. In addition to writing about cycling and other sports, he contributes business and lifestyle content to several publications, and has been the editor and publisher of the automotive website theweeklydriver.com since 2004. James lives with his wife Gretchen and two cats in Sacramento, California.