Dream deferred: Mollema gets another chance at Tour de France podium

Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) was battling for a Tour de France podium spot in 2016 when a crash on the way to Mont Blanc during stage 19 sunk his chances and eventually saw him drop him out of the top 10.

Mollema obviously has unfinished business with the Tour, but the 31-year-old Dutchman had to defer that reckoning last year when Trek-Segafredo brought on two-time winner Alberto Contador and Mollema was relegated to a super-domestique role.

With Contador's retirement in the off-season, Mollema is back behind the reins of Trek-Segafredo and is hoping to rekindle his drive for the podium. There are plenty of riders he'll have to top along with way, not the least of whom are four-time winner Chris Froome (Team Sky, EF Education First-Drapac's Rigoberto Uran, Movistar's triumvirate of Nario Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, AG2R's Romain Bardet, BMC Racing's Richie Porte, Mitchelton-Scott's Adam Yates and Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali.

A crowd is already forming around the podium before the race has even started, so Trek-Segafredo are hoping they've brought the right mix of riders to help Mollema break through. The seven riders Mollema will be looking to for support in July are Julien Bernard, John Degenkolb, Koen de Kort, Michael Gogl, Tsgabu Grmay, Toms Skujins and Jasper Stuyven.

In Stuyven, de Kort, Gogl and Skujins, Trek-Segafredo have brought riders who can ably guide Mollema through the tricky first third of the race, including leaving him in good standing after the stage 3 team time trial. Degenkolb, Stuyven and de Kort will also be handy during the stage 9 day on the cobbles, with maybe enough reources left over to expend some energy in the breakaways.

None of the other teams in the race stack up well against the climbing squads Movistar and Team Sky will bring to the race, but Mollema will be able to count on Grmay, a proven pure climber, while Bernard will be eager to prove himself during his debut in his home tour.

The decision to leave climbers Peter Stetina and Jarlinson Pantano, who rode the Giro, off the roster in favour of the roleurs will likely pay dividends in the first third of the race, but Trek-Segafredo may feel their absence when the GC battle begins to heat up in the mountains. The rest will be up to Mollema in his quest to answer any 'what ifs' he may have left over from 2016.

Trek-Segafredo's Tour de France roster

Name: Bauke Mollema
Position: GC leader
Age: 31
Nationality: Dutch
Experience: 12 Grand Tours, including seven starts in the Tour de France and four top-10 finishes

Mollema's Tour de France exploits so far topped out in 2016, when he was runner-up to Chris Froome (Team Sky) for six days until he lost 4:26 after crashing on the way to Mont Blanc and slipped to 10th, eventually finishing 11th overall. Mollema finished 17th overall last year while working for Alberto Contador, winning stage 13 and climbing steadily up the GC in the final days.

Mollema's best results this year came at Coppi e Bartali, where he won a stage and finished second overall to Team Sky's Diego Rosa. His form put him in the running during the Ardennes Classics, and he topped off his preparation with 12th overall at Tour de Suisse.

The Dutchman has proved in the past that he can ride for a podium spot in the French Grand Tour, but he needs to avoid the bad days and bad luck like the one that put an end to his chances in 2016.

Name: Julien Bernard
Position: Climbing domestique
Age: 26
Nationality: French
Experience: Three Grand Tours, including both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana last year. He also rode the Vuelta in 2016

Bernard is one of two Trek-Segafredo riders making their Tour de France debuts this year. His climbing skills will come in handy for Mollema, who will have the unenviable task of taking on superior numbers in the mountains from the likes of Team Sky and Movistar. Bernard will be crucial in keeping Mollema fresh and protecting him on the early slopes during the major mountain days.

"I don't have the words to tell you how much I'm proud and honoured to announce me selection for the Tour de France," he said in the team's roster announcement.

Name: John Degenkolb
Position: Sprinter
Age: 29
Nationality: German
Experience: 11 previous Grand Tours 

Degenkolb has 10 stages wins over three years at the Vuelta a Espana, but the German fast man has yet to grab a big win at the Tour. His only wins this year came in January at one-day races in Spain, and since then his cup has been fairly dry.

Degenkolb added a sixth place finish in the final bunch kick at Tour de Suisse to go with scattered top 10 finishes throughout the spring, but he appears to be lacking the necessary speed at the moment to win bunch sprints at the Tour. The 2015 Paris-Roubaix winner could be a key player in helping shepherd Mollema past the cobbles on stage 5, however.

Name: Koen de Kort
Position: Road captain
Age: 35
Nationality: Dutch
Experience: Of de Kort's 14 Grand Tours starts, nearly half have been at the Tour

De Kort will be a key lieutenant for Mollema as the race progresses. The 35-year-old is the elder statesman on the team and has raced six Tours previously. He is integral to Degenkolb's lead-out train, and his Classics experience will be critical for guiding Mollema through the first third of the race when tensions are high and positioning can save seconds that come in handy later.

Name: Michael Gogl
Position: Domestique
Age: 24
Nationality: Austrian
Experience: Gogl has raced the Vuelta in 2016 and the Tour de France last year

Gogl's previous Grand Tour experience has been in the service of Alberto Contado, first at the Vuelta a Espana in 2016 with Tinkoff and then at the Tour de France last year. The Austrian, who is the youngest rider on Trek's Tour team, will need to adjust to a new leader this year, but his all-around skills will be a big service to Mollema over the three weeks. The team says he'll also be looking for his own chances in the breakaways if and when the opportunity presents itself.

Name: Tsgabu Grmay
Position: Climbing domestique
Age: 26
Nationality: Ethiopian
Experience: Five Grand Tour starts, including the Tour de France in 2016 and 2017

Grmay's third Tour de France will see him riding in service of Mollema in the mountains. The pure climber thrives when the road turns uphill, and with six high-mountain stages, three with summit finishes, Grmay's assistance will be in high demand.

Grmay prepared for the Tour at the Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine, where he put in solid performances throughout and was able to practice this team time trial skills. Finishing 24th and 17th at Romandie and Suisse, respectively, are not headline-grabbing results, but they're consistent and reliable, just what one wants in a domestique.

Name: Toms Skujins
Position: Domestique
Age: 27
Nationality: Latvian
Experience: Completed his first Grand Tour last year at the Vuelta a Espana

Skujins is a versatile rider who likes to put his nose in the wind in breakaways, where he's found considerable success over the past several seasons. Skujins' relatively quick turn of speed means he'll play an early part in Degenkolb's lead out as well as pacing the climbers in the early kilometres of the mountains. Trek-Segafredo is also counting on Skujins to be a big part of their team time trial effort on stage 3.

Skujins has already claimed two wins for the team in his first season with Trek. He started the year with a win at Trofeo Lloseta-Andratx, part of the Challenge Mallorca. He added another win to his palmares during stage 3 at the Tour of California, jumping away from the bunch near the end of the stage to Laguna Seca and stealing one from the sprinters. Look for the adventurous Latvian, who recently won his national time trial title, to get some time up the road at the Tour.

Name: Jasper Stuyven
Position: Domestique
Age: 26
Nationality: Belgian
Experience: Four Grand Tours, including two Vueltas in 2014 and 2015, the Tour in 2016 and the Giro last year

The big Belgian will be Degenkolb's final lead-out man in the sprints, and he'll also look for his own opportunities in breakaways or on the difficult days when Degenkolb doesn't make it to the finish with the lead group.

Stuyven's Classics pedigree could be a huge help for Mollema on the stage 9 adventure over some of Paris-Roubaix's cobbles, or he might even have a run for the stage win. When not helping Degenkolb in the sprints or going up the road to satiate his own ambitions, Stuyven will be working for Mollema and the Dutchman's GC run.

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