Bauke Mollema is not, it seems, much given to worrying about things he cannot control. The Trek-Segafredo rider cut a contented figure in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's Montefalco time trial at the Giro d'Italia, and his opinion of his day was not tempered in the least when he learned that Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) had beaten him by more than two minutes on the 40-kilometres course.
"It's not in my hands how fast Dumoulin or other guys are riding. I just have to look at myself and I think I did a good time trial, not only because of my 10th place but also because of the power I put out and the feelings I had," Mollema told Cyclingnews in Forlì on Thursday. "I gained time on almost all of my competitors, and Nibali was maybe 10 seconds ahead. To Dumoulin, the gap was big and bigger than I expected, but he was just flying two days ago."
Mollema's solid display in the time trial – he had anticipated as much after placing 6th in a similar test in the Ardèche at last year's Tour de France – left him in third place overall, 2:38 down on his fellow countryman Dumoulin, but just 15 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and ahead of both Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
Having produced a similarly capable performance on the Blockhaus on Sunday, Mollema was, along with Dumoulin, perhaps the only podium contender to come away pleased from each of the Giro's two major rendezvous to date.
"Those were two good days for me and I have some gaps behind me," Mollema said. "I'm in the fight for the podium now. Dumoulin is far, far away, but the other guys are close around me. For now, it's a good position to go into the weekend. The last week is going to be so hard, so I'm really focused on that."
Mollema is no stranger to strong starts to Grand Tours: at the 2013 and 2016 Tours de France, he had spells as Chris Froome's closest challenger before fading somewhat in the final week. There was considerable mitigation at last year's Tour, of course, as a crash on the rain-soaked Monte de Bisanne saw Mollema drop from second to 10th overall in one afternoon on stage 18. With this Giro's most arduous final week in mind, Mollema tailored his preparation accordingly and raced sparingly ahead of the race.
"I didn't race much before the Giro. For the last six weeks, I didn't race," Mollema said. "I really wanted to be fresh and maybe last week on Etna I wasn't on my best form but that was planned a little bit. I really hope to make a step up in this race. Let's see if I can do it or not. So far, everything is going well. I really hope to be there in the last week."
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A different challenge
For all that the Giro's opening half has marked out five principal contenders for the podium berths – namely, Dumoulin, Quintana, Mollema, Pinot and Nibali – it would be hazardous in the extreme to project too much from the mountain stages to date. On Mount Etna on stage 4, the favourites played out something of a scoreless draw. The explosive challenge of the Blockhaus, meanwhile, is rather different to the long slog that awaits in the final week.
"Yeah, that's really different, and we also saw that at the Tour two years ago, when Froome won at La Pierre Saint Martin," Mollema said. "The gaps there were also really, really big. It was the first mountain stage with a flat run-in, but in the mountain stages in the last week, the gaps were much smaller in the last week. So maybe that [the transition from flat roads to a steep summit finish – ed.] was a problem for some riders, I don't know.
"Still, in the last week, a lot can happen. If you have a bad day, you can lose ten minutes or more, especially with three or four days in a row so hard. That's different to what we've done so far."
It will also be a different sort of challenge for Mollema's fellow countryman Dumoulin, who was so impressive on the Blockhaus and appeared so unflustered on each of his two days in the maglia rosa to date.
"He has a few minutes to lose, so he can do his own tempo, but with all these climbs, it will be much harder, especially if there are attacks on the first climb," Mollema said. "On the stage over the Stelvio, for instance, if there are attacks on the Mortirolo, it's still a long way to go to the finish. That's going to be different to what we've seen so far. We'll also see how strong his team are. Yesterday they looked ok, but on the real climbs, it might be a bit different. It's hard to say now, but so far he looks the strongest."
This coming weekend offers a sample of the hardships to come in the Giro's final act, with a summit finish at Oropa on Saturday followed by a potentially treacherous finale on stage 15 to Bergamo. "I didn't do Oropa before, but it's not too long, and only 6 or 7 kilometres are quite steep. I watched the video from the Giro three years ago, just to have an idea. I don't expect any big, big differences this weekend, but there can always be gaps, so as a GC rider you have to be there."