Mollema reveling in responsibility at Volta ao Algarve

With Alberto Contador's spot on the team now a distant memory, Bauke Mollema has moved into rather more familiar territory as Trek-Segafredo's main contender for week-long races and Grand Tours.

The 2017 Tour de France stage winner will target the race once more this year after riding as a super domestique to Contador in last year's event, and he's tuning-up for his first serious objective of the year – Paris-Nice – at this week's Volta ao Algarve.

"My biggest goal is once again the Tour de France," he told Cyclingnews on stage 1 in Portugal. "That changed last year with Alberto in the team. I was also the GC leader last year in most of the races that I did. It was only in Catalunya and the Tour where I was racing for Alberto. This doesn't make a difference to me and it's similar to 2015 and 2016 when I was more or less the only GC rider in the team."

With Trek unable – and partly unwilling – to sign another GC leader for 2018, Mollema will lead the line in almost every race he starts. He says he thrives on the pressure, and in a contract year for the 31-year-old, that could certainly inspire him to succeed and finally deliver a podium in a Grand Tour.

"I think that I'm used to that pressure," he said. "I think everyone needs some pressure to perform, and I think that I can say I like that."

Trek-Segafredo as a team have appeared revitalized in Contador's absence. It wasn't as though the Spaniard was holding the team back last year – he provided many exciting performances, and although he only won once and cracked at the Tour de France, he was still worthy of leadership. However, with Contador gone, more and more Trek riders are having opportunities to lead and to win. The squad have already won six times this year, and given they won 20 times in 2017 they're well on the way to beat that tally.

"The start of the year was really good for the team, with a few sprint wins and the time trial win in Argentina," Mollema said. "When I saw the team in training camp everyone was really motivated. Alberto was only with us for one year. I think everyone speaks as if the team has really changed with him stopping. Of course, it was a big change but he was only there for one year. It wasn't like he was there for years and years. For sure, for the younger riders and other riders, this is a chance for more freedom in other races."

In terms of Algarve, it will provide Mollema with a more serious workout than the one he went through at the Mallorca Challenge last month. There are two summit finishes and a time trial in Portugal, and although it is not a WorldTour race it is still a highly respected one-week race.

"For me, this feels like the first real race and it's my first time here in Algarve," he said. "This isn't the biggest objective, of course. I think everybody knows that the biggest objectives are the WorldTour races, but this race has a nice course and it's a good test ahead of Paris-Nice. That's my first really big goal of the season. My form is good though, and in Mallorca, I was feeling okay. I think I've made another step and the feelings I had in training were also good. I'll be okay.”

Friday's individual test against the clock will provide Mollema with a chance to gauge his time trialling form after a winter spent tinkering with his position and set-up with Trek. The Dutchman famously rode a time trial on his previous team's Bianchi bicycle without much testing back in 2014, with disastrous consequences – but he is now a far more serious athlete when it comes to testing and development. At the Tour de France that factor will surely be crucial.

"I've worked on my position a lot," he said. "We made some big changes to my position the winter before. I went lower with the bars, but in 2017 I didn't really good feelings. I also felt that with the power I had I should have done better in time trials.

"That's why we went and did more testing on the track this winter. So, now I've gone up a bit more in terms of position. I think we made a mistake last winter but now the bike is also a bit more aero and I've also changed the cranks. It feels really good. I've also spent lots of time training in this new position, so I think last week I did more than eight hours on the TT bike."

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