A change of scenery can work wonders, they say.
Bauke Mollema surely hopes so. The promising Dutch climber ended a seven-year stint with various incarnations of the same team — Rabobank, Blanco, and finally Belkin — over the winter to sign with Trek Factory Racing. He’ll take a leadership role at Trek, eyes firmly on a Tour de France podium.
Mollema has come close before. He was sixth in 2013 and 10th in 2014. This year, he’s shooting higher.
“I think my best years are still left to come,” Mollema said on a conference call with journalists Friday. “I’m 28 and I started cycling pretty late. A lot of big riders from the past have been at their best level in their 30s — 30, 32 — my five or six best years have to start now. I have the confidence that I can make that next step.”
This summer’s Tour will be the first for Mollema as the solitary leader of his team, a clear change from the shared leadership he experienced at Belkin with Laurens Ten Dam. There will be more pressure to perform, to prove to his Trek bosses that their investment was worth it. But that added pressure is welcome, he said.
“I like a little bit of pressure. If you look at my results, at my victories and my podium spots I’ve had a lot of good results in the WorldTour races than the smaller races,” Mollema said. “I need a bit of pressure to perform.”
Aggressive racing tactics have worked out in Mollema’s favor in the past, netting him a stage victory at the Vueta a España in 2013, and he plans to go on the attack more this year.
“I think the key is to make an extra step in my level, do some more training, and maybe also in some races to take a risk in the final with an attack instead of waiting until the finish line,” he said. “Maybe that’s something I didn’t do enough last year.”
Preparations have been good. Last season saw mid-winter illness slow down his training, but he’s had no such bad luck this year.
“I like to start the season in good shape, I’ve been training well this winter, I’ve been doing more than last year so far, maybe 1,000km more than last year,” he said. “It’s going really well. I will start in Mallorca, and I like to start with a good level in the first races.”
Mollema’s 10th in last year’s Tour seems a poor reflection of his potential. He was sitting in seventh prior to a disastrous final time trial, performed on a bike he’d ridden only once before, which lost him over seven minutes and three places on the penultimate stage. Time trial skills are already being addressed by his new team. The power and potential are there: Mollema rode to a pair of 11th places in the two medium-length time trials of the 2013 Tour. He just has to shake the demons of that 2014 effort.
“It was difficult last year in the Tour, I don’t try to think about that too much anymore,” he said. “In the training camp we already did the bike fitting on the time trial bike, then after we went to Trek in Valencia to look at aerodynamics. I have the bike at home already, I’ve been training on the time trial bike two times per week already.
“My time trial isn’t too bad, only last year we had some problems with that,” he said.
Mollema’s season will open at the Vuelta Mallorca at the end of January, but the first true objective is a good ride at Tirreno Adriatico, which will see a confluence the Tour’s major contenders. Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will all be there. He’ll follow that up with a shot at the Ardennes classics, sharing leadership with teammate Frank Schleck, before turning to face the Tour.