There may have been mixed emotions for Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) on Mont Ventoux yesterday, but there was nothing but happiness for the Dutchman on Friday as he put in the “best time trial of my life” to move up to second overall at the Tour de France.
Mollema was first to the line at Chalet Reynard on the truncated Ventoux finish after crashing into a motorbike with fellow attackers Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing), but he was unhappy about the way officials revised the times.
He still made up ground on the rest of the GC group but here on Friday, on the 37.5km time trial in the Ardèche, where the winds were still blowing, the gains were significant, and he may just have emerged as the principal threat to race leader Froome.
"I think it was the best time trial of my life, so I'm very happy," he told a huddle of journalists from the boot of a Trek-Segafredo team car, just after crossing the line and draining a can of Acquarius in one try.
He finished the course, which featured a couple of leg-sapping climbs, 51 seconds down on Froome – who was second to stage winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) – but ahead of every other GC contender. Having started the day fourth overall, he put 1:07 into Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) and 1:14 into Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to move up to second, 1:47 back on Froome but just over a minute ahead of Yates in third. No other GC contender could get closer than 54 seconds to his time.
"I had a really great day," said a clearly delighted Mollema "I knew I could do a good TT today - I was well prepped and knew what to expect. I’d done a lot of training on TT bike last month, a lot of it uphill. I just gave everything. With the legs I've had the past days I was confident I could do a great TT, and I did."
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Mollema is a solid all-rounder and stronger against the clock than the pure climbers on GC, but he held a trump card on this blustery afternoon in the Ardèche: his nationality.
"I was quite happy with the wind because I'm a little bit heavier than some of the other GC guys, and I'm used to riding in the wind – where I live in Holland it's always windy, so it was an advantage for me that it was windy like this."
Asked about the chaos that had descened on Mont Ventoux 24 hours previously, Mollema admitted he found it difficult to switch off Thursday evening, but woke up in the morning refreshed, focused, and unaffected by the crash.
"It was quite difficult [to switch off]. It was a hectic evening, lots of reactions, and I couldn't really fall asleep well, but I have that often that I don't sleep so well at the Tour. This morning I think I slept for around 45 minutes, just two hours before my TT so I was relaxed and that was a good sign – I think I had calmed down, I did the recon this morning, and was really focused."
Having gone into the rest day seventh overall, Mollema's performances over the last couple of days have seen him emerge as a major player in this Tour de France, and the question will be asked: how far can he go?
He was asked if he's now in a position to win the whole thing, though Froome's lead of 1:47 now looks commanding. In any case, having finished in the top 10 in each of the past three editions, there's every hope that he can better his best ever result of sixth in 2013.
"I don't know – it’s still a big gap to Froome," said Mollema cautiously. "We'll see, I'm just happy with where I am right now, and there's a long way to go."