GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alberta (VN) — Even after nine grand tours in the past five years, Bauke Mollema is experiencing new concepts in cycling. Racing in Canada is new. Riding a team time trial on a road bike is new, as is winning the discipline.
And as a result, Mollema, the Dutch rider who has placed in the top 10 at the Tour de France the past three years, is the race leader after his depleted Trek Factory Racing team pedaled to a split-second victory Wednesday over favorite Orica-GreenEdge in the opening stage of the Tour of Alberta.
“This was the first TTT win in my life,” said Mollema, 28. “It was a big team effort and everyone gave everything he had. It was not planned to lose three guys. The plan was to have eight when we finished, but in the past we have always started too slow.”
Mollema, who has eight individual career stage wins, is a noted climber. He was among pre-race favorites since the third-year event has added mountain stages for the first time. But the soft-spoken climber didn’t expect to excel until stage 3, when the race enters Jasper National Park and concludes with a summit finish.
“We have a strong team and we knew that we would fight for the first three positions,” said Mollema. “But actually, I didn’t expect to beat [Orica] because they brought almost their entire team for the world championships.”
Trek was the third of the 15 teams of eight riders to start the 12.2-mile flat, technical course. The squad set the provisional lead in brisk weather and intermittently strong headwinds and crosswinds. But an hour later, Trek expected its time would fall when the Svein Tuft-led Orica team posted the best intermediate split.
But the Australian-based squad, condensed to five riders in the waning few miles, faltered and finished .74 seconds behind Trek. Mollema, the first Trek rider to cross the finish line, was vaulted in the race lead.
“It helps with confidence, for sure,” said Mollema, who last competed in a team time trial at the Tour de France in July where the Trek finished 11th among the 22 teams. “It’s great to win a team time trial, it’s the first time in my life, and I think for some of the other guys, too, it was really special.
“The last 8km was hard with five guys. But if you look at the intermediate times and the time at the finish, that is where we gained a lot of time, so that’s really nice.”
Mollema, whose last individual win was stage 4 of the 2014 Tour of Norway, hasn’t won a stage race since the 2007 Tour de l’Avenir.
“I have to say I liked the time trial with the road bikes better,” said Mollema. “It’s not as fast, but you can corner faster, so it was a lot of fun. The weather (about 50 degrees) wasn’t so bad, but the wind was very cold and it made for a tricky parcours.
“There was a bit of a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back. Our maximum speed on the way back was 72kph (approximately 45 mph). We actually were slower by 12 seconds at the intermediate so we did really well in the second half. It’s always nice to win as a team, and this gives us huge motivation for the rest of the week.”