Having taken the lead on stage 5, expectation amongst the media that the 27-year-old will lose the red jersey on stage 9’s ascent of La Covatilla is so high that although Molard politely requested that the written press limit themselves to a total five questions because of a three-hour post-stage transfer, in fact he was only asked four.
“It will be difficult to keep the jersey on [Sunday’s] big climb,” the Frenchman acknowledged. “I hope I will be able to do so, but when I see [Alejandro] Valverde’s current form, it’s clear who’s the big favourite.
“It was a difficult little finish today [Saturday], but overall it was a fairly straightforward stage and being well-placed in the finale was important, so as not to get caught behind,” said Molard, who was 30th on the line at Almaden.
Molard refused to tell reporters Groupama-FDJ’s strategy for keeping the lead, his first ever in any stage race as a pro, and which constitutes the highest-profile moment of his career to date. But he promised, in any case, he would “defend it all out.”
“I don’t know much about Sunday’s final climb [La Covatilla], and I’ve never done it," the Frenchman said. "I’d prefer something shorter and steeper, but we will see what we can do."
To his considerable credit, Molard has ridden a very solid race in defence of his lead to date in the crosswinds of stage 6 and tumultuous, difficult finales of stages 7 and 8. But he recognised stage 9 was a wholely different ball game.
“There are 4,000 metres of vertical climbing on the stage, so it’s going to be a very tough one for everybody. We’ll all reach the foot of the Covatilla feeling very tired,” he said. “Then we’ll see what happens.”