Bauke Mollema has described his decision to target stage wins rather than the general classification at the Giro d'Italia as 'much more relaxing', with the Dutchman changing his Grand Tour approach for the first time since he turned pro in 2008.
The veteran Trek-Segafredo pro finished 12th in the Giro d'Italia in 2010, his first-ever Grand Tour when he was just 23, and since then has placed seventh in 2017 and fifth in 2019.
But in 2021, and in his fourth Giro of 18 Grand Tours, it’s time for a new approach for Mollema, even his first major breakaway bid on the waterlogged, constantly undulating stage 6 looked anything but easy on the nerves.
Mollema bridged across to the break of the day after a lengthy pursuit, then only lost contact with stage winner Gino Mader (Bahrain Victorious) close to the summit of the San Giacamo final climb.
However, the 34-year-old told Cyclingnews that his new focus has lowered his stress levels in the Giro and, after losing 13 minutes on Tuesday's equally raining and freezing-cold stage 4, he will continue to be on the hunt for more breakaways to come.
"I’m feeling pretty good, my preparation for the Giro went well and on Tuesday’s stage I wasn’t at full gas; the main goal was to stay warm, and with that time loss it’ll be easier to get into moves," Mollema told Cyclingnews earlier this week.
The stage 6 breakaway left him with mixed feelings. He was strong enough to launch a successful counter-attack with AG2R Citroën's Geoffrey Bouchard and get over to the stage leaders but then paid a price for that on the climb when his energy levels were too depleted for him to stay with Mader to the top of the climb.
"I’m definitely disappointed, it was quite close, the leaders only caught me with two-and-a-half kilometers to go," he said in a video released by the team.
"I think I did 30 or 35 kilometers of chasing with just the two of us, trying to get across, and after that, I didn’t feel so good anymore. The weather made it harder, there was a tricky downhill. It was a hard day on the bike.
"I was still trying for a result, of course, but on the last climb my best legs had gone already."
Yet, as Mollema told Cyclingnews earlier in the week, it’s all less tense than when he goes for GC in a Grand Tour like the Giro.
"Overall, it’s much more relaxing, even in the preparation. Last week before the Giro I focused on the Ardennes and finished Liège with quite good feelings," he said, having placed eighth at the Belgian Monument.
"It’s very different to if I was fighting on GC for every second, even on the flat stages. Now I can concentrate on staying safe and looking after the team interests - we’ve got a lot of different options here."
The rider from Groningen had one of his most successful early-season campaigns, winning the Trofeo Laigueglia and a stage of Tour of the Alps, which also helps to lower the pressure.
"In a Grand Tour you always want to perform so it’s not so different, even if I think it helped to have those good results at the start of the year, some wins and some other good ones, so that’s maybe a bit less pressure. But with my goal of a stage win here and other targets for the team, not so much."
Although Mollema remains guarded on his exact targets for the Tour de France, his 2021 season has been geared around the Giro-Tour-Olympics triple.
With that in mind, he had a relatively calm spring after his intense start in February through to Strade Bianche. He took a week off and then went to altitude for a training camp in March while avoiding the harder WorldTour stage races of that month.
"The Olympics are a big goal too. Our team selection has yet to be announced, but normally I will be there," he said.
"It’s a nice course and one that suits me, plus I always got good results after the Tour, so I’m really looking forward to that."
But before he can start thinking about Tokyo and the Tour, first there’s the Giro d'Italia and his new targets there.
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