It was hardly a surprise to read last week's news of Bauke Mollema extending terms with Trek-Segafredo. The Dutchman has been the team's most consistent and reliable winner for several seasons, and with the resumption of racing on the horizon, the American squad was keen on tying down the 33-year-old for a further two seasons.
Mollema will race an action-packed few months from August, with the Tour de l'Ain first on his schedule before the Tour de France later that month. He may indulge himself with the defence of his Il Lombardia crown, but that's yet to be finalised as Trek-Segafredo plot their return to racing and the necessary training camp that will take place in July.
"The programme is more or less fixed but it's not quite 100 per cent. First of all, it's important to see that all the races do happen in the end, and then normally I'll do the Tour de l'Ain. I'd also really like to be at Lombardia again, but we have to see if we can fit it into my schedule with altitude training," Mollema tells Cyclingnews.
The Tour de France will be the centrepiece of Mollema's season, with the experienced climber sharing leadership responsibilities with Australian teammate Richie Porte.
The pair have been training together recently, but only raced a handful of times together in 2019. They both lined up for the Tour that year, with Mollema coming in off the back of an admirable ride at the Giro d'Italia and Porte struggling for his top form after an illness-affected spring. This time around they will head into the Tour as equals, and, given Mollema's experience in such matters, the relationship has the potential to prosper.
"We'll see how it goes at the Tour, and how we're both riding," Mollema says. "At the moment, we're both training, and last Sunday we rode together. We'll do some more rides in the coming weeks and then we'll also have a training camp in July. We'll race together before the Tour, so there's still time to get to know each other even more.
"We didn't race so much together last year. Other than the Tour we only did one race together at the start of the year. But I know him well and we're both professional. We know what we have to do," he tells Cyclingnews.
"Being co-leaders isn't a problem for me. I'm relaxed and I'm just working on reaching my best form. If Richie is flying, then I'd love to help him, too."
Mollema's ability to compete in stage races and during one-day events will be greatly needed once action resumes.
With Vincenzo Nibali heading to the Giro d'Italia as leader, Trek-Segafredo has two Monument winners in their ranks, and Mollema's post-Tour calendar is stacked with major races as he heads to the Vuelta a España to target stages and then will pick off a number of one-day races. The World Championships are also on the cards if the event takes place in Switzerland in late September.
"The Vuelta was on the schedule at the start of the season, and we're going to stick to the plan," Mollema says.
"The Ardennes Classics are included and then the Worlds, hopefully, if they're still in Switzerland. For the Vuelta, the goal will not be the GC, but I'll try be there to win a stage."
With three Grand Tours crammed into 71 days of racing, and overlaps all over the place, Mollema is certain that the level of competition will be higher than ever.
Teams and sponsors will be looking to make up for lost time and for potential exposure, and the pressure will be intense as riders still searching for contracts bounce from race to race looking for a potential career-saving ride.
"Maybe there's even more pressure from the teams and sponsors after such a long time without racing," suggests Mollema. "We just have to be ready for the beginning of August, and then try to perform at every race as a team. I always like to race, and we've been home for a long time, so hopefully by the time I go into the Tour, all the hard work is done. I'm looking forward to it.
"I expect everyone to be at 100 per cent at the Tour, and in top form at the start," he adds. "It will be so important for the teams, and everyone has had the time to train hard and do altitude camps again. The level will be super high. You can't say that it will be higher than in other years because then it would be strange and would mean more riders would take breaks like this.
"It will be stressful. The first week will be hard with some mountain stages, so we don't have seven days on the flat. The last week is going to be super hard as well."
Mollema's cool, calm and collected mindset will stand him in good stead when racing returns, but the added knowledge of having another two years in the bank at Trek-Segafredo will undoubtedly help.
"I'm really happy in the team; it's been great for me. The atmosphere is good, and so are the bikes and the staff. I didn't even have a reason to talk to other teams. All my contracts have been two years, but we talked a bit in the winter and looked at what I wanted. Now that it's sorted, it's given me some peace so that I can concentrate on the training and the racing for the rest of the season," he says.
"There's still a lot to achieve. I'm still really motivated, and there are many nice races. I'd really like to win a championships: the Worlds, of course, the Olympics and even the Europeans. It would be great to wear a jersey like that for a year. I've also not won a stage in the Giro yet, and that would be cool. There are also some big one-day races, and in the next couple of years I'll focus more on them."
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