Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) has been knocking on the door of a Grand Tour podium for several years now, so it's something of a surprise that his overall victory at the Vuelta a San Juan, wrapped up on Sunday, was only the second stage race success of his career.
The Dutchman has been on the podium of Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Suisse, but his only week-long victory before today was at the Tour of Alberta in 2015.
"When I came to this team I spoke to Luca Guercilena, and that was one of the really important things we spoke about," said Mollema, referring to the need to become a winner in the smaller stage races as a stepping stone to Grand Tour success.
"I haven't won so many stage races in my career so it gives me a lot of confidence that I'm on the right track, in the way I've been working over the last two years at this team.
"Personally, my next goal is to win a WorldTour stage race in Europe, like Tirreno. I've been second and third a lot in those kind of races so it's time to win one of them."
Mollema is clearly delighted with the progress he has made since joining the American team in 2015 – after seven years at Rabobank – and earlier in the week he spoke to Cyclingnews about the huge strides he's made in his time trialling.
That was what laid the foundations for victory this week and, with his climbing talent never in doubt, the 30-year-old, who will target the Giro d'Italia this year, is convinced his best results are ahead of him.
"I'm still making steps – I can see that in the results but also physically – and that gives me a lot of confidence to kick on from here and work even harder in the build-up to the Giro," he said.
Mollema has clearly been in fine form this week, his heavy block of winter training bearing fruit – in contrast to his Giro rival Vincenzo Nibali, who has taken a slightly more leisurely approach to the start of the season, arguing it would be counterproductive to be firing on all cylinders this early.
Mollema can't complain with a week of hot-weather racing in the legs and a confidence-boosting victory, though he acknowledged that he'll have to knock it off in the next few weeks to avoid peaking too early before May.
"Next week I'll be back in Europe, and I will take it really easy because over the last five weeks I've done a lot of hours on the bike, and this was the end for me of a large training block," he said.
"With the weather change, going back to cold weather, it's important to take it easy, then I'll have two weeks of training for Abu Dhabi [end of February –ed] – my last race before Tirreno."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.