Seven years after he took an impressive 12th place in his first Grand Tour in the 2010 Giro d'Italia, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) is back in Italy's top race – but with no time or inclination to get nostalgic.
Mollema's breakthrough Giro d'Italia result in 2010 confirmed the stage racing ability he'd already shown by winning events as tough as the Tour de l'Avenir and the now defunct Circuito Montañes in Spain on the amateur circuit in 2007. Had he not missed out on the mass break to L'Aquila halfway through that year's Giro d'Italia, Mollema could well have finished even higher in his Grand Tour debut.
Mollema has approached the 2017 Giro very differently to 2010, too. He's skipped the Ardennes Classics and the Vuelta al País Vasco, which he rode both in 2010 and 2016. Instead, after taking ninth in Tirreno-Adriatico and abandoning midway though the Volta a Catalunya, for over a month he has focussed on long periods of training during the spring.
"2010 was my first Grand Tour, and for sure it [the Giro] is chaos, that's Italy," the Dutchman told Cyclingnews before stage 5.
"There was a totally different feeling to it all, anyway, because the 2010 start was in Amsterdam and now I've done 10 Grand Tours. Back then everything was new."
Then as now, Mollema says, "Racing in Italy is tricky, roads are bad, particularly on the islands and in the south of Italy, you have to be very focussed the whole day to stay out of problems." He managed to make it safely through the Giro's first real challenge on Mount Etna, despite a tricky finale that Mollema describes as "quite dangerous" and that saw his compatriot Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) crash.
"I didn't feel so good on the last climb," added Mollema, ninth on stage 4 and currently eighth overall after five stages. "But I was there with the favourites, so it was a little bit all looking at each other. There was a headwind so it was not so hard in the end, and it was good to be up there. All's going well." He recognised that – as Movistar's Nairo Quintana has also said about his own dearth of recent racing – after nearly a month away from race action, he will need a number of stages to hit top form.
Mollema certainly knows what's coming up in this year's Giro d'Italia, despite his long absence from Italy's Grand Tour. Partly to refresh his memory of the Giro d'Italia climbs, Mollema has done a lengthy series of recons of the Giro's toughest stages, including the Blockhaus climb, the mid-race time trial and the Dolomites.
"I don't know Italy that well, so I had to see a little bit more and see how hard the stages really are," he said. "So I was happy I went there. It took me a few days, but it was definitely good to see. I hope it will help me in the last week, because that last week will be really hard."
He is not thinking at all about the Tour de France yet, where he will have very different goals from those he has at the Giro d'Italia. Come July – where he was lying second last year until he crashed badly in the rain-soaked second last mountain stage, fading to eleventh – Mollema will be 100 percent dedicated to racing for Alberto Contador as the Spaniard guns for the yellow jersey. For now, he is fully focussed on the Giro d'Italia, where he is not putting any particular limit on what he feels he can achieve.
"My goals," Mollema told Cyclingnews, "are to go as high as I can. I'm feeling good, and I hope to get to the level I had in the Tour de France last year. If I do, I can fight with the best riders for sure."