Tour de France: Mollema over his injury and dialled in for top-five ambitions

Trek rider backed by strong team

Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) is over his back injury and in the impressive early season shape he displayed in Tirreno-Adriatico, according to the rider and his team.

The Dutchman leads Trek at the Tour de France for the first time having signed from Belkin [now LottoNL-Jumbo] in the winter and believes that the top five is reachable. A back injury in the spring took several weeks to rectify and although Mollema endured an average Dauphiné the team's plan is to ensure that he maintains his top form right through until Paris.

"I've had good training camps since then. Now the back is okay again and it's 100 per cent," Mollema said at the team's press conference in Utrecht on Thursday morning.

Flanked by Fabian Cancellara, who will play a crucial role in the opening time trial and then turn to protecting his leader in the first week, Mollema added that the Tour GC remained his aim, although he acknowledged that the calibre of opposition had risen. Mollema, realistically, sits a rung below Contador, Nibali, Froome and Quintana – this year's Fab Four - but is among a second echelon of challengers that includes Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).

"I'm going for GC and there are a few big favourites in my opinion. There are few riders who can finish in the top five if everything goes well and I'm one of them. It's a big group though and the level is really high in the peloton at the moment for GC. It will be a hard fight but I'm looking forward to it."

Mollema's final overall position will be determined in the mountains but every potential GC rider mush build the foundations to their challenge in the opening skirmishes in Holland, Belgium and northern France, where the cross-winds, cobbles and small climbs will make for tantalising but fraught racing.

Trek have arrived in Utrecht with a solid squad for such terrain with Cancellara's Classics cadre blending with Mollema and a dose of climbing talent in Julian Arredondo, Markel Irizar and Haimar Zubeldia.

"I think we have a really strong team for the first week. Saturday's time trial is a really big day for Fabian and that's really important for him and the team. We have a lot of experience in the team and that's going to be really important in this year's Tour and the first week. If you look at the first week we have [Grégory] Rast, Fabian, [Stijn] Devolder and other guys who are really strong in Paris-Roubaix and this will be a crucial stage and I'm grateful for their help. We have guys who have can work for a leader in the first week and know what to do and how to keep a leader out of the crashes."

Cancellara's role will be pivotal in the team's success at the race. Not only will he be a favourite to pull on yellow in Utrecht on Saturday but he will no doubt be focused on the cobbled stage from Seraing to Cambrai three days later, the Swiss rider still smarting from his injury-hit spring.

Luca Guercilena, who selected the Trek nine for the Tour, believes that he has assembled a team fit for a number of scenarios in this year's race, and the team will need to perform after a mediocre campaign to date. The Italian knows full well how important the first week's action will be.

"I think that we have small advantage in that Bauke is used to riding the Ardennes Classics. It means he knows how to take position and the wind shouldn't be a problem for him. The cobbles will be bit more complicated because we want to be competitive for the stage and support him a lot but that's why we have five guys here from the Classics."

Guercilena handpicked Mollema from the transfer market last season, noting the Dutch rider's potential to improve.

"It's going well, until we had Pais Basque where he had that crash," Guercilena said, pointing to Mollema's impressive second place overall in Tirreno. "That limited him in the Ardennes and then we changed his programme with him doing the Dauphiné instead of doing the Tour de Suisse. That's so he can be stronger in the final week than he has been in the past.

"I think it's realistic to be top five or top ten. To be top five you need that bit of luck because something can happen and this year it has been a bit of a nightmare with the injures that we've had. Bauke, here, needs to have his own strategy and not concentrate on the big four. There's enough pressure but it’s a good pressure. The team is for him and he can feel the support."

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