After two weeks in which they have rarely had a chance to shine and with their numbers down to just four, Holland’s Bauke Mollema gave Dutch squad Belkin a much-needed Vuelta a España stage win on Wednesday in what was unfavourable terrain.
Showing a turn of speed that would have done credit to Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack), Mollema blasted off 700 metres from the line in Burgos at the end of stage 17 to fend off the mini-peloton of favourites and other riders in the leading echelon. A few seconds later, the Dutchman’s first Grand Tour stage win was in the bag, and at the same time Mollema proved conclusively he is well on track for the hilly world championships in Florence. If he can do so well on a tricky finish like Burgos, what will he be capable of doing in Italy in two and a half weeks’ time?
“In the last kilometre, there was already only a small group at the front, and with one kilometre to go the speed dropped a little bit,” the 26-year-old said afterwards.
“I thought of going then, but one guy from NetApp was already up attacking, so I went for it a bit later.
“I was waiting for the right moment, I went for it full gas, and I didn’t look back until there were 50 metres left to race. I suffered a lot in those last 500 metres, but it was worth it.”
Australian teammate David Tanner was in the front group, too, so Mollema said, “we had more than one card to play. If I was caught, he could have gone for it.”
“There are only four Belkin riders in the Vuelta now, but with three in that front group [of around 35], that was pretty good. Morale in the team hotel is going to be very high tonight!”
Mollema has done well in the Vuelta in the past, placing fourth in 2011 when he led the race for one day, at La Covatilla, and taking the points jersey overall. After taking sixth in the Tour de France despite being ill – he only slid out of the podium placings in the final week – the 26-year-old then claimed ninth at the Clasica San Sebastian as he built towards the second half of the 2013 season.
“I never lost my motivation after the Tour,” Mollema said. “I knew it would be hard to do gc for the Vuelta, I tried but after the first week I could see it wasn’t going to happen.
“Better to save energy and fight for a stage win than try to defend 15th or 20th overall.”
With the Worlds and the Tour of Lombardy his next objectives after the Vuelta, Mollema says he is in good shape for Italy. “The course in Florence is good for me, a short climb and a long one on a circuit. I’ll go for the maximum result possible.”