CHAMROUSSE, France (VN) — Bauke Mollema (Belkin) pulled on an ice vest and immediately jumped on the trainer to cool down Friday afternoon, in spite of both the withering heat and the 18 kilometer climb up Chamrousse that whittled the finishers into ones and twos.
This Tour is long, and Mollema still has GC ambitions. After a sixth-place result last year, it’s certainly within reason. After the Tour’s first major summit finish, the Dutchman sits in seventh overall, 6:17 down on Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
“I couldn’t follow the best riders of the GC, but I moved up one spot on the GC. It’s a pretty good day,” the Dutch rider said. “At this moment I’m still riding for GC. I’m seventh. I moved up one spot again. But we will see after tomorrow. I think tomorrow I will go forward and try to follow the GC riders, and then in the Pyrenees, yea we can try something you know?”
The stage from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse took a huge toll on the peloton, which has gone from racing in cool temperatures and rain to enduring searing heat up a beyond-category climb. The race has proven to be one of attrition, as Nibali’s lead is bolstered and teams throw caution to the wind. Sky rider Richie Porte, for instance, lost more than eight minutes on the day.
“The heat formed a huge challenge,” said Mollema. “It was extremely hot. During the last kilometers it seemed as if my legs were on fire. I’ve never experienced that before … Doing a good overall isn’t necessarily about being the best rider in the race. It’s also very important to avoid a bad day that the others might suffer, like Porte today. That was a surprise to me.”
And though Nibali is in firm control of the lead (up 3:37 on Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde), the fight for the podium is tight — a testament to the overall level of competition at the 2014 Tour.
“Yea, I expected them a little bit,” Mollema said of the fresh faces in the top-10, such as a cadre of French riders including Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). “They were riding really well last year in the Vuelta, and the first part of the season … There are a lot of strong riders at the moment, and the level is really high.”
The goal remains the podium, but that could perhaps shift to stages if Mollema falls from contention.
“We will see. It’s going to be hard,” he said. You never know. Last three days I moved up one spot every day. So I hope to continue that.”
Mollema will get another crack on Saturday, as the Tour rolls from Grenoble to Risoul, via two cat. 1 climbs sandwiching an HC, the Col d’Izoard. The stage ends up a 12.6km climb at 6.9 percent to Risoul.
Mollema’s steady consistency is attracting the attention of several teams, including Trek Factory Racing, which confirmed its interest in the Dutch all-rounder. With Belkin’s sponsorship future looking ever bleaker, it’s almost certain Mollema will be riding in a different jersey in 2015.