While Tom Dumoulin has professed his love for Italy and confirmed he will again target the Giro d’Italia in 2018, fellow Dutchman Bauke Mollema has told Cyclingnews that he will return to focus on the Tour de France as protected team leader at Trek-Segafredo.
Mollema targeted the 2017 Giro d’Italia, finishing seventh overall. He admits to making mistakes with his build-up and race schedule, convinced that he more suited to the heat and pressures of the Tour de France in July than the demands of the Giro d’Italia.
Mollema’s track record seems to confirm that. He has ridden the Tour de France seven times during his 11-year career, with three top-10 results. In 2016 he was second overall until a crash on the final mountain stage 18 to Megeve meant he slipped to eleventh in Paris.
The presence of Alberto Contador at Trek-Segafredo for the 2017 season sparked Mollema’s change of programme and he rode the Tour de France in support of the Spaniard with freedom to target stage victories. While Contador struggled to be an overall threat and win a stage, Mollema enjoyed a big day out on stage 15, winning alone in Le Puy-en-Velay after aggressive day in the break.
His loyalty to Trek-Segafredo’s cause and the team failing to sign another big-name Grand Tour rider after Contador's sudden retirement decision means that Mollema is again team leader for the Tour de France. Gianluca Brambilla will lead the squad at the Giro d’Italia, with the likes of Pete Stetina, Jarlinson Pantano and Markel Irizar set to support Mollema at the Tour de France.
It is a well-known path that Mollema is happy to follow again.
“I’m going back to the Tour and back going for the GC too,” Mollema tells Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview, with a hint of excitement in his voice, revealing his emotions and sincerity.
“I hope last year will help me in the future. It wasn’t bad to target the Giro once and then do the Tour in a different role. Winning a stage was still a big success and also watching Alberto do everything and trying to help him taught me a lot. But I’m looking forward to going back to the Tour. I think it’s the Grand Tour that suits me well and perhaps the best. I’m looking forward to having it as a big goal.”
Mollema is a quiet fighter during Grand Tour, with his determination and climbing skills helping him to stay consistent during the decisive final week. He is suited to the way the Tour de France has evolved in recent years; he is able to handle any cobbled stages and aggressive uphill finishes better than the more fragile pure climbers.
“I like a hard race and at the 2018 Tour de France you have to be up there from the very start. Of course the last week will be the hardest and you can make big time gains there but the first week will be really stressful and hard on the body. I think that’s a good thing for me,” he argues.
“There’s also the team time trial and some uphill finishes in the first week this year. It’ll be a fascinating first week, with someone sure to lose time. The cobbled stage is harder than in 2014, this time there are a lot more sections.”
“Some of the climbs are perhaps harder in the Giro and Vuelta but in general the whole Tour is harder because of the high stress levels. But I rarely lose my self-control and get overly stressed, so that’s another reason I’m suited to the Tour.”
Consistency in 2017
Mollema spends much of the winter at his home in Monaco. He has been quietly getting back into training in recent weeks after ending his 2017 season late in October with second place at the Tour of Guangxi in China. He started his season way back in January, winning the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina. He had a total of 79 in 2017 plus several training camps in his legs and rightly enjoyed much of November off the bike.
San Juan and his Tour de France stage win were his only two victories of the season but he was also fourth at the Abu Dhabi Tour, ninth at Tirreno-Adriatico, seventh at the Giro d’Italia, 17th at the Tour de France, third at the Clasica San Sebastian and fifth at the Montreal Gran Prix Cyclist.
He was rightly satisfied with his 2017 season despite the Giro d’Italia not going as he and Trek-Segafredo had hoped.
“I think in general I had a really good 2017 season. My glass was definitely half full,” he says. “The Giro d’Italia was not the best, I’d hoped for more, that’s for sure, but if you look at my whole season, I was really consistent from January, where I won at San Juan, until China, where I finished well too.”
Mollema is meticulous and has looked back at his 2017 and the Giro d’Italia to learn for the future.
“We’ve analysed my performance in the Giro and there were a few things that we’d do differently if we could turn back time,” he admits. “I’ve always done the Tour in the last four years and so it was a change in lots of ways: my training, my race programme and then the racing at the Giro too.
“I like the hot weather in the summer and think I perform my best then, so maybe the Tour suits me better. Of course I enjoyed the Giro; Italy is a real cycling nation. I’ll perhaps go back one year but do some things differently, such as the altitude training camp in the spring. I maybe did too long up there. I’d do a few different things in training too.”
Mollema found consolation for his below-par performance at the Giro d’Italia by winning a stage at the Tour de France.
Mollema waved his arms in celebration as he crossed the line in le Puy-en-Velay, savouring his first ever Tour stage victory, having fended off the chase of his former breakaway companions for a full 30 kilometres. It was the biggest win of his career and lifted morale at Trek-Segafredo after Contador’s disappointment and only nine minor wins up to that point of the season.
“The Tour stage meant a lot to the team but to me too,” he says. “I’d always watched the Tour since being a kid and always dreamt about winning a stage. Now I’ve done it. It was also one of my best ever days on the bike; maybe not the best over because it was different to a mountain finish but to win a stage meant a lot, especially after riding alone for 30km. It was the biggest highlight of my season.”
Aiming for the exclusive Grand Tour contenders club
Mollema has been knocking on the door of the exclusive club of Grand Tour contenders for several years. He has the consistency and ability but has so far failed to secure the results and overall classification placing all the way to Paris.
He was close to a major break through in 2016 before his crash. However, he refutes he has any unfinished business. He has put the huge disappointment behind him, using it to learn for the future.
“I don’t look at it like that. The crash and losing a spot on the podium was hard to take but it’s well into the past now,” he says. “How I rode in 2016 actually gave me the confidence that I can fight for the podium in the Tour until the end. That’s what I’ll do and keep in mind in 2018. Thinking how close I was and then what happened doesn’t really help me this year. I don’t think about it anymore and focus on preparing for this year’s Tour.”
After a decade in the WorldTour and years of consistent results, Mollema is not afraid of any of his potential rivals at the Tour de France. He is 31 and so perhaps at his Grand Tour peak.
“Froome, if he goes, will be a threat but it looks lots of riders are going to the Tour this year. The biggest riders are always there,” he says. “For me personally it doesn’t really matter who is there and who is isn’t. The Tour is always hard and so the hardest of the three.”
Season debut in Mallorca
Mollema will join several big-name Trek-Segafredo teammates for a combined debut at the Challenge Mallorca in late January after a training camp on the Spanish island.
His programme will be focused on preparing gradually for the Tour de France with several intermediate objectives. An interesting change is that he may ride the Tour de Suisse (June 9-17) instead of the Criterium du Dauphine (June 3-10) due to the Tour de France starting a week later than usual on July 7.
“I start quite easy with the focus on July. Last year I did the Giro and so had a very different schedule. I did Abu Dhabi and Catalunya. 2018 will be more like 2015 and 2016, with I hope the results more like then too,” Mollema says.
“I have to look at routes of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico and see which is best for me before making a final decision. I’ll ago back to the Ardennes classics and do the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I’ve always liked them and so it will nice to go back. Then I’ll choose my Tour de France build-up. The date change means it’s quite likely that I’ll the Tour de Suisse.
“I’ll go for Worlds too but that’s a long way away to really think about. I’ll focus on the first half of the season and especially the Tour de France first. That’s my big one for 2018.”