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Vuelta a Espana

Dutch rider Mollema aims for worlds breakout

Bauke Mollema is an outsider on the Dutch team because Tom Dumoulin will headline the squad, but he has a shot at winning gold.

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Could the world champions be speaking Dutch this year? That could very well be the case.

The Netherlands will bring a packed team to the UCI road world championships on both the men’s and women’s sides.

Racing this month in Spain is rainbow jersey outsider Bauke Mollema. The veteran Dutchman has been racing aggressively throughout the Vuelta a España, with one eye on a stage win and another on Innsbruck.

The 31-year-old will be an outsider only in the sense that Tom Dumoulin is expected to headline the loaded Dutch squad on the men’s side.

“It’s a really good course for us. I am really looking forward to that,” Mollema said. “We will have a strong team, but so will a lot of other nations. It’s a climber’s course and I have already seen the start lists from Colombia and Italy, so it will not be an advantage just to us.”

The Netherlands will bring a super team loaded with firepower and experience to the worlds. In addition to Dumoulin and Mollema, the Netherlands will also bring Wout Poels, Wilco Kelderman, Sam Oomen, Steve Kruijswijk, Antwan Tolhoek, and Pieter Weening.

Too many cooks in the kitchen? Mollema says no.

“We will decide a few days before the race, but normally Dumoulin will be the leader, with me and Poels having a chance,” he said. “The others should ride in support, but we will decide everything once we arrive to Austria and see how everyone is doing.”

This year’s Vuelta is seeing many of the pre-worlds favorites back at the Spanish grand tour. As the Vuelta has progressively become more challenging, some of the worlds-bound riders have used the Canadian WorldTour races to hone their fitness. For example, Peter Sagan is back at the Vuelta for the first time since 2015.

“For me, I think the Vuelta is the best preparation,” Mollema said. “You do a lot of race rhythm, and I think that’s important. I like doing the Vuelta before doing the worlds. In 2013, I was strong in the worlds [11th].”

Mollema, who is set to ride with Trek-Segafredo through 2020, is one of those riders who doesn’t win a lot, but who is often knocking on the door for victory. Throughout his career, he’s won 11 times, but just as often he’s been on the podium. His biggest one-day win was the Clásica San Sebastián in 2016. In 14 grand tour starts, he’s punched into the top 10 four times and finished second or third on stages in five other editions. He has twice won grand tour stages — in the 2013 Vuelta and the 2017 Tour de France.

So far in this Vuelta, Mollema has been in several breakaways and has twice finished second. He vows to keep attacking until the road runs out.

“I’ve been close twice already and I will keep trying. I don’t think the breakaway will go every day, I will hope to win a stage.”

So, will Innsbruck end Sagan’s three-year reign as world champion? Mollema said don’t be too sure.

“You never know! I would not be surprised if he is still there in the final. The course looks super-hard so maybe everyone will wait until the final lap,” he said. “That final climb is very steep so it’s not the perfect course for him, but you never know with Peter Sagan.”