Bauke Mollema (Belkin) is one of the few general classification riders relishing the forthcoming cobbles on stage 5 of the Tour de France. The Dutch rider will be flanked by some of the best Classics riders in the peloton, including 2013 Paris-Roubaix second place Sep Vanmarcke. He hopes to use this to his advantage and put the pressure on his less able rivals on the French pavé.
"I hope to take time on a lot of guys there, we have a really strong team for that stage," he said at the pre-race press conference on Friday. "When you look at the riders here, Sep and Lars (Boom), and also the other riders who did Paris-Roubaix, we have a really strong team for that stage. For sure it will be really nervous with a lot of crashes, but I have a lot of confidence in this team that we can not only survive that stage, but also make time."
Mollema will be Belkin's main leader, with Laurens ten Dam also earning a protected role. He made his debut as a team leader at last year's Tour de France and he looked like he may be a surprise podium finisher, but fell back in the final week, eventually finishing a still impressive sixth.
The 27-year-old arrived in Leeds in good form after finishing the Tour de Suisse in third. He used the same build-up to last year's Tour and hopes that he can match the improved performance this July. "It's not that easy in cycling. We just focus on the Tour and on every stage. We have to go full every stage and then we will see what happens," he said.
"I think it is harder this year than last year, more uphill finishes. The first week is really hard already with Sunday's stage and the cobbles stage. Next weekend there will be more hard stages and the Alps and the Pyrenees still have to come. I think it's harder than last year, but that suits me well and I hope to do better than last year."
Hanging over the head of Mollema and his teammates is the potential closure of his team at the end of the year. The riders have given the team until the transfer deadline of August 1 to secure a new sponsor, before they begin to look for another contract. However, if rumours are to be believed, bike sponsor Bianchi has given the team until the first rest day.
Despite manager Richard Plugge being adamant that the team will continue, their future is hanging in the balance. Mollema has already been linked to a number of teams, including Tinkoff-Saxo. The Dutchman says that he will not be too worried about the sponsor hunt as he aims for GC glory.
"For me it doesn't change much, I knew that my contract was ending this year in December," he explained. "I am not thinking about it too much. Of course, it is in the back of your mind and it was really bad news when Belkin pulled out a few weeks ago. I think that we, as riders, need to focus on the Tour at the moment."