It may have been a surprise to see Bauke Mollema finish second at the Vuelta a San Juan stage 3 time trial, getting the better of his teammate and former Hour Record holder, Matthias Brandle, but it was in fact a continuation of a marked upward curve for the Dutchman against the clock.
The Trek-Segafredo rider admits to having approached time trials with a degree of trepidation in the past but, such are the strides he has made since joining the American team in 2015, he now sees it as a 'weapon' – one that makes him a bigger threat than ever in the Grand Tours.
Mollema has never been a terrible time triallist, with some encouraging displays in 2013, but he memorably lost nine minutes and dropped from 7th to 10th on the penultimate day of the 2014 Tour de France. Soon after that he was on his way to Trek, with a four-time world time trial champion in Fabian Cancellara assuring him he’d get all the help he needed.
“In the last couple of years we’ve done a lot a lot of work to improve my time trial,”Mollema told Cyclingnews in San Juan.
“For sure it’s more scientific. Beforehand I didn’t do any testing in the wind tunnel or on the track – I just did that when I came to Trek. When we first did the bike fitting we changed a lot. We changed the cranks, the position, the handlebars – everything basically.”
Mollema said his confidence on the TT bike had already shot up by Tirreno-Adriatico in March, but more encouraging still was the opening day of the Tour de France, where he was 14th on the 14km course on home soil.
His results in the following 12 months don’t stand out on paper but back at the Tour de France last year he produced the ride of his life to take 6th in the undulating Ardeche time trial, launching him into second on GC. Little over a month later he won the first time trial of his professional career at the Tour of Alberta.
“I feel much more confident now on the time trial bike in general. When I look at a course, a few years ago I was more afraid to lose time in the TT’s but now maybe it has become sort of a weapon even, somewhere where I can gain time on other riders.”
In that respect, the fact that he beat Vincenzo Nibali by 32 seconds on the 12km course in San Juan won’t have gone unnoticed, even if it’s only January. The Italian will be one of his big rivals this year at the Giro d’Italia, with the 100th edition of the corsa rosa featuring two important time trials, totalling 67.2km.
“Looking to the Giro, with two long TT’s, it was important to work on my time trial,” said Mollema. “I will be doing a lot more training on the TT bike over the coming months. In Catalunya there will be a long TTT, and that will be really important, then there’s Tirreno-Adriatico as always.
“This winter I’ve actually gone back to the track to do more testing,” he added. "We changed a few things, made some small improvements, and I think it’s still possible to improve it even more.”