Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) must be crossing off the final stages of the Tour de France with a sense of anticipation and delight. The Dutchman is on the brink of a career-defining result as the race heads into the final week. The Dutchman passed through the Tour's latest test - a dip into the Jura Mountains on stage 15 - with ease and maintained his second place overall.
Mollema has been a consistent performer at the Tour de France taking top 10 places in his last three appearances but his challenge for the podium and, it's a long shot but just maybe, the yellow jersey has been a surprise. He is less than two minutes behind race leader Chris Froome in the overall standings and Froome has labelled him as his biggest threat. Froome looks pin sharp at the moment, but it's not an insurmountable margin and Mollema is in prime place should the Team Sky rider run into any difficulties.
"It's going to be really hard. Froome the big favourite and he needs to have a bad day, but we will see. Hopefully, I can have these legs for the last four days in the Alps and then we will see what is possible," Mollema told the press outside his team bus.
Stage 15 to Culoz had been billed by some as the toughest stage of this year's Tour de France with over 4,000 metres of ascent to deal with. Most were expecting fireworks over the two climbs of the Grand Colombier, but that failed to materialise as Team Sky drilled it on the front. Most of the GC riders held on with just a few falling by the wayside.
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While there was drama up front as the lead kept chopping and changing and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) almost ran out of road as he searched desperately for victory, the stage turned into a stand-off back in the group of favourites. Aside from a few speculative attacks, there was little action between the GC contenders and the big day turned out to be an anti-climax in terms of the overall standings. Froome moved to make an attack, in an attempt to see what his rivals would do but when nobody took the bait he settled himself back into the peloton.
"I was a bit surprised. I didn't know what he was doing," Mollema said of Froome's attack. "The last couple of kilometres of the climb are not so hard anymore. [Romain] Bardet attacked but afterwards it was quite easy, and I think that he almost crashed with Quintana on the top. It was a bit tricky, especially on the descent. There were no problems, though.
"I think that Van Garderen lost a lot of time so that's one guy less for the classification, which is always good," said Mollema. "The rest of the guys looked really strong, [Fabio ] Aru attacked, but he never got away. Bardet also tried to attack. He went really fast on the descent, but I never had any problems. It was a hard day today but I feel good and one day less to Paris."
The pause button has been hit on the general classification fight for a couple of days with a sprint stage on Monday before the rest day on Tuesday. Play will be pressed again on Wednesday as the riders begin the first of four very tough stages and, after almost three weeks of racing, fatigue will certainly play a factor. Only time will tell if Mollema is capable at holding off those behind him.