After a promising 2020 season dissolved into disappointment due to a broken wrist midway through the Tour de France, Bauke Mollema is determined that this year's campaign turns out differently. His 2021 season will be built around the Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double, offering more opportunities for success after the disrupted season gone by.
The Dutchman will team up with fellow Grand Tour veteran Vincenzo Nibali at both races, the pair sharing leadership duties for Trek-Segafredo as Giulio Ciccone takes the opportunity to lead at the Vuelta a España.
Mollema has taken on the Giro-Tour double in both 2017 and 2019, finishing seventh and fifth at the Giro while also winning stage 15 at the 2017 Tour. In 2021, Nibali will lead the team in Italy, while the hierarchy for July has yet to be finalised.
With the Tokyo Olympics – also a goal – coming less than a week after the end of the Tour, having a week less to recover and prepare between the two Grand Tours would, you'd imagine, make targeting both more complicated. Mollema doesn't necessarily see it that way, though.
"I really like doing [the double]," Mollema said from the team's training camp in Spain earlier this week. "I'm not sure if it's harder or more complicated this year. After the Giro you need some rest and then two weeks of training before the Tour starts.
"I really wanted to do two Grand Tours this year, and I think this was the best combination for that. I'm really looking forward to going back to Italy. I have good memories and so far, it's been a good race for me.
"For the Giro, my own goal is not the general classification so Vincenzo will be the leader there. I hope to help the team and help him as much as possible. For the Tour, we don't know yet. It's still early and will depend on how we both come out of the Giro. It's a challenge and we're looking forward to it."
The team continues this year without Richie Porte, a fellow Grand Tour leader who last year scored the team's best Tour de France podium since the Schleck brothers took second and third in their first year back in 2011.
Mollema said that Porte's return to Ineos Grenadiers after five years away won't change much in terms of his own chances going forward. The pair were co-leaders going into the Tour last year, after all.
"I don't think it will change a lot for me," he said. "It was nice riding together with Richie. Unfortunately, I wasn't there at the end of the Tour last year because I crashed out after two weeks. I still have a lot of other goals and a lot of races I like next to the Grand Tours, so I don't think it changes a lot."
One of those races will be the delayed Tokyo Olympics road race, coming just five days after Paris on a tough course around Mount Fuji. Mollema took part at the Rio 2016 Games, finishing best of the Dutch riders in 17th place, and he also has form racing immediately after the Tour, having won the Clásica San Sebastián in 2016 and finished on the podium on three more occasions.
Indeed, he sees the travel and jetlag as the biggest obstacle to an Olympic bid, rather than the proximity to the Tour. Many of the other competitors will be in the same boat, though, in any case.
"I don't expect [the Tour] will be a big problem," he said. "I think the Tour will be the best preparation before the Olympics, in my opinion.
"The only thing is the travel, of course. You probably have to go to Japan directly from Paris, which isn't ideal. I think when you do the Tour, your level is so high and there's so much racing in the legs that, for those five days before the Olympics, you don't have to do much.
"I've always done that when racing San Sebastián after the Tour, and I've got a lot of good results there, too. The only difference is the travel and jetlag."
Earlier on in the year, the Ardennes Classics are also on the menu – another goal of Mollema's in what figures to be a packed year, should racing avoid more COVID-19 disruption. It remains to be seen how Il Lombardia, another of his favourites, figures into his plans.
"I will go to the Ardennes," he said. "That's also a big goal for me where I really like to do a result. In March, during Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico I will have a break, so it's a bit different to most riders.
"I'll start the season quite early in February with Étoile des Bessèges in France and I'll do a lot of races in France like Provence and Haut Var. I started training really early because I finished my season earlier than other years, so I'm probably a few weeks ahead of other years already."
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