Rabobank's Bauke Mollema may have lost out on his objective of a victory in yesterday's stage nine of the Vuelta a España, but the new overall leader was still happy with his achievement atop the La Covatilla climb and hopes to defend his red jersey in today's 47 kilometer time trial in Salamanca.
After an impressive final climb, Mollema contested a three-man sprint to the line against Garmin-Cervélo’s Daniel Martin, the eventual winner, and Geox-TMC’s Juan Jose Cobo. Finishing second, the Dutchman said on his team's website that he hadn't paid enough attention to Martin's move and therefore lost out.
"That was my only mistake today [yesterday]. I had the legs to win the stage and knew for sure that I could have beaten Martin, but I didn't watch out. I looked to the left and he jumped away to the right of Wiggins. It was downhill at that point, and I hadn't taken that into account. It's a shame, as otherwise it would have been a double victory," he admitted.
Still, claiming the overall leader's jersey was "a great feeling" for the 24-year-old, who finished 12th in the 2010 Giro d'Italia and fifth in this year's Tour de Suisse. "I was going for the stage win, so I was very disappointed at first that I got second because of a small mistake. But then, when they said I had the leader's jersey, it was a great reward, too."
Mollema did not race to his expectations at this year's Tour de France, finishing 70th, but is now building on a solid form to which the Tour largely contributed. "It's true that I need a lot of competition days to reach a good race rythm, and utlimately the Tour was a great preparation for this. I'm taking advantage of this now: my condition is great and my legs feel good," he said.
Monday's stage ten, the race's only long time trial, is bound to reshuffle the top of general classification once again. Still, Mollema hoped to defend his leadership even though there are 12 riders all within one minute of him, with last but not least Sky's Bradley Wiggins in 13th position.
"You have to be realistic, but you never know," said the Rabobank youngster when asked if he thought he'd keep the jersey only for one day. "Wiggins is close and there are a few more good time triallists high up in the classification. But I've also done a few good time trials this year, so I'm still confident.
"Still, it's going to be difficult. I've never raced such a long time trial [47km]. But they haven't gotten rid of me yet. When you're amongst the best on a climb like that, it gives you a boost."