Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) has said he doesn't count Chris Froome among the contenders for this year's Tour de France, after being part of a lead group that rode away from the four-time Tour champion at the Tour de l'Ain on Saturday.
Mollema made the selection brought about by the fierce pace set by his former team, Jumbo-Visma in the Jura mountains on stage 2, while Froome and a number of other big names were dropped.
Froome lost contact on the penultimate climb, as Jumbo's Tom Dumoulin led the way, with Dumoulin himself soon dropping back. Froome's Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour champion, was dropped later on the climb, leaving reigning Tour champion Egan Bernal to face Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk on the final haul to the finish.
Asked by Dutch broadcaster NOS about his ride, Mollema indicated it was encouraging to see some of the big-name Tour de France favourites distanced, mentioning Dumoulin and Thomas. When the reporter added Froome's name, he smiled awkwardly.
"I don't actually count Froome anymore," he said.
"You can see that he is not at the level where you will just win the Tour, I think."
Froome, who is still making his way back to top form after the career-threatening crashes he suffered last June, finished more than 12 minutes down on the lead group and sits 57th overall heading into Sunday's final stage.
Last week he finished 37th at the Route d'Occitanie after working for Bernal, who won the overall title. Next week he, Bernal, and Thomas are set to all line up at the Critérium du Dauphiné as the Ineos hierarchy becomes clearer ahead of the Tour.
Mollema, meanwhile, was frustrated at the finish of stage 2. He began to launch what looked like a strong sprint for the line, only for his right cleat to snap off, leaving him to crawl across the line in 11th place.
"I came from behind perfectly with 200 meters to go, when I shot out of my pedal. I tried to clip in again, but shot out of my pedal again. It is a shame that there is no result, because I had the feeling that I could at least finish on the podium."
Still, Mollema took heart from the fact he matched an elite group of riders, proving he is on track for the Tour de France, where he'll lead the line alongside Richie Porte, who finished back with Froome.
"I was happy to be there with the six best climbers. There were only Tour favorites in the group," Mollema said.
"It was a really tough race. The temperature rose to 35 degrees Celsius. It was really grueling, but a good test. There are few races to pick up on course hardness and it is only a few weeks until the Tour. This race and the Critérium du Dauphiné are the only opportunities to go full throttle and test yourself."
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