2012 was a mixed year for Bauke Mollema. On the one hand, a crash-blighted Tour de France meant that he was unable to build on his fourth-place finish at the previous year’s Vuelta a España, but that setback was tempered in part by the Dutchman’s progress in the Classics.
A top-10 finisher in Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy, Mollema was active at the business end of the one-day races best-suited to his talents, even if one senses that did not compensate for the distress of being forced to abandon the Tour due to injury.
“I think you can look at my season in two ways,” Mollema told Cyclingnews. “The Classics went really well. Ok, I was always between fifth and 10th but before 2012, I never did the top 10 in a big Classic so I made a lot of progression in the Classics and I’m really happy with that.
“But then the stage races and especially the Tour were disappointing. I was third in the Basque Country and that was a nice result in April but the Tour and the Vuelta were not what I hoped for.”
A stricken Mollema abandoned the Tour on stage 11 to La Toussuire, and after spending 10 days off the bike on his return home and welcoming the arrival of his first child in August, the 26-year-old from Groningen was well shy of his top form when the Vuelta came around, finishing 28th after riding in support of Robert Gesink. “That was disappointing but at least I know what the reasons were,” he said.
For 2013 then, Mollema will look to dream it up all over again in the colours of Blanco Pro Cycling, and once more, he will try to combine a concerted push towards the Ardennes classics with his Tour de France build-up.
“I think you can do both and maybe for next year, I’ll try to be good in Tirreno-Adriatico first,” he said. “The difference there is normally made on the short climbs so you can compare that with the Classics. Then after the Classics, I can start doing longer intervals in training to prepare for the Tour.”
Mollema admits that it is all but impossible to match the explosiveness of riders such as Joaquim Rodriguez and Philippe Gilbert on the Mur de Huy at Flèche Wallonne. Not surprisingly, he is hoping that Amstel Gold Race opts to move its finish line from its current location atop the Cauberg to the point 1.5km over the summit where the world championships road race finished last September.
“For me, it would be better and for the rest of our team, too. The race would be more open if they put the finish at the same spot as the world championships. I think the last 10 kilometres of the race would be less closed and that gives a chance to get away in a group. As for Liège, well it’s really a case of waiting for the last 20 kilometres and then if you’re good, you can try something.”
Tour de France
At the Tour de France, meanwhile, Mollema will be Blanco’s leader alongside Robert Gesink, who will have the exertions of the Giro d’Italia in his legs, and he is confident that there will be no clash of interests between the two maturing Dutch talents. “I think it’s good to have some sort of competition in a team because that way, you can make each other stronger and also you can just help each other in the race,” he said. “Last year at the Vuelta, I was helping Robert in the last ten days. Maybe next year, it can be the other way around.”
Wisely, Mollema is reluctant to put a number on what would constitute a successful Tour, joking ruefully that “first you need to pass the first week and that was hard with the crashes last year.”
“I just want to finish as high as possible – maybe it’s 10th, maybe it’s sixth, maybe it’s 15th, I don’t know,” he continued. “I’ll try to go full for the general but also look for a chance for a stage win. Maybe one day if I feel good, I can take a risk and go for a stage. If it goes badly, ok I might lose an extra minute, but I want to try it anyway.”
Remarkably, the Netherlands hasn’t produced a stage winner since Pieter Weening pipped Andreas Klöden in Colmar in 2005, but with a double climb of the “Dutch mountain” of l’Alpe d’Huez two days before the finish next July, Mollema grins when asked where he would like to break that particular hoodoo: “If I could choose one stage to win, it would be that one. It’s about time a Dutch rider won a stage.”
While the Dutch fans on the hallowed twenty-one hairpins will doubtless continue to be draped in various shades of orange, their flagship team undergoes a significant makeover in 2013 following Rabobank’s decision to withdraw from sponsorship. While the Dutch bank will finance the squad until the end of the year, the onus is on Mollema et al to attract a new title sponsor to ensure the team’s survival into 2014.
“The management has to find a sponsor, which isn’t easy in these times,” Mollema said. “But we riders need to play our part and try and get as many results as possible. And it’s not just the results that matter, but also our values and who we are.”
Of course, it was a question of values that saw Rabobank make its surprise decision to withdraw from sponsorship in October; namely the questionable values of the team itself and cycling as a whole during much of its 17-year presence in the professional peloton.
The nadir for Rabobank perhaps came with the Michael Rasmussen affair of 2007, which kick-started a gradual overhaul of the team’s management structure. There is a sense, then, that the likes of Mollema, Gesink, Wilco Kelderman and Steven Kruijswijk – all products of Rabobank’s Continental team – have been made to pay for the sins of the past, even if Mollema admits he can understand Rabobanks’s rationale.
“They said it was not like they didn’t trust us but that they didn’t trust the whole international world of cycling,” Mollema said. “As a big sponsor, I can understand that if there’s always negative publicity in your sport that, after 17 years in cycling, you decide to stop.
“But as a rider from the current era, I would have understood better if they had stopped after Rasmussen or during that period. Sure, there has been a lot of negative publicity with Armstrong but Rasmussen was more negative for the team itself, and in the last few years a lot of things had already changed on the team and cycling has become a lot cleaner than before. So I have mixed feelings.”