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Mollema chooses his moment wisely at Tour de France

QUILLAN FRANCE JULY 10 Bauke Mollema of The Netherlands and Team Trek Segafredo Most Combative Rider celebrates at podium during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 14 a 1837km stage from Carcassonne to Quillan LeTour TDF2021 on July 10 2021 in Quillan France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo won stage 14 and was most combative rider (Image credit: Getty Images)

Bauke Mollema knows how to choose his moment. Before the Tour de France had even begun, he had underlined stage 14 in his road book. It caught the eye of the Trek-Segafredo rider for two reasons. The start town, Carcassonne, was where he had won his previous Tour stage in 2017, and the rolling road to Quillan lent itself to a break.

“When I looked at the road book at the beginning of the Tour, I knew this was a good opportunity,” Mollema said on taking a seat for his press conference after claiming stage victory. “It was perhaps better for me that the finish wasn’t uphill. A few days ago, I also checked the course on Google maps, so I knew more or less what to expect.”

Mollema’s breakaway companions perhaps should have known what to expect too. The Dutchman has never been a prolific winner – Saturday’s victory was his 17th in 14 seasons as a professional – but many of his wins have followed a certain pattern.

As at Carcassonne four years ago, at Il Lombardia in 2019 or at the Trofeo Laigueglia earlier this year, Mollema managed to eke out a few metres of freedom and then run with it all the way to the finish line. He attacked on the descent of the Col du Castel with 41km remaining on Saturday and was not to be seen again by Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sergio Higuita (EF Education-Nippo), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), et al, as he held firm over the Col de Saint-Louis, winning by 1:04 in Quillan.

“I’ve won most of my races, I guess, with solo rides. You just have to find the right moment to attack,” said Mollema. “It’s not just luck, it’s looking for the right moment. There was no one in my wheel at that moment and then you have a gap straightway. I think a lot of guys were not expecting an attack there, and once I have a 3 or 4-second gap, it’s pretty hard to close me down. You had to be pretty quick to react to close the gap, because otherwise, those guys were going to look at each other.”

Put like that, Mollema makes the difficult art of winning from a sizeable breakaway seem rather simple, but the endeavour was altogether more vexing at the Giro d’Italia, where he had set out from Turin with the stated intention of landing a stage victory. By his own admission, Mollema was a victim of his own enthusiasm at the Giro, and after trying to jump on every move towards the end of the opening week, he was running on fumes by the time the race hit the high mountains.

“In the Giro, I made some mistakes. Around stage 8 or 9, I spent a lot of energy just to get in the breakaways and that killed me a little bit for the rest of the Giro,” said Mollema, who cut his cloth a little more carefully at this Tour, where he also made it into the break on stage 11 over Mont Ventoux, placing third alongside teammate Kenny Elissonde.

“In the last days on the Tour, I was perhaps gambling a little bit more in the start of the stages and not going crazy. I was always keeping some energy and keeping an eye on the break, so maybe I’ve been racing a little bit smarter here. And the Tour is also a race that maybe suits me better than the Giro. I always like the hot weather and at the Giro, it wasn’t so good.”

Mollema will hope his victory in Quillan is an augury for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where he will line out in a Dutch squad that also includes Tom Dumoulin, Wilco Kelderman and Dylan van Baarle. 

Unlike his Trek-Segafredo teammate Vincenzo Nibali, who is expected to leave the Tour on the second rest day with the transfer to Japan in mind, Mollema intends to remain in the race until Paris, just five days before the men’s road race.

“My plan is to the finish the Tour de France. That’s always been the plan,” said Mollema, who placed 17th at the Rio Olympic Games five years ago. 

“I have a flight to Tokyo on Sunday evening after the Champs-Élysées. The Olympics are definitely a big goal for me this year. I think it’s on a course that suits me well, so I’m really looking forward to that day.”