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Alasdair Fotheringham

Bauke Mollema: The Giro d'Italia is always an adventure

Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)

Bauke Mollema first ride the Giro d’Italia back in 2010 but 13 years on, the Trek-Segafredo rider still loves the Corsa Rosa and is convinced that the Giro remains faithful to one of its roots.

“It’s always more of an adventure than the Vuelta or Tour,” Mollema, who has ridden 21 Grand Tours, including the Giro d'Italia five times, tells Cyclingnews.

“That’s partly because I know the roads a bit better in France, as I’ve done more recon camps there and the Tour more often. But also because in Italy, there are so many mountains and little towns there, they seem to have different uphill finishes every year.

"So it's a bit harder to know what's coming, and to find out, if you can, you have to look on the Internet from several years before to see what the roads are like. Normally you just have to follow your feelings and try to make the best of it."

"There are always more unexpected things in the Giro," Mollema explains.  

"The Italian roads are twistier, trickier to handle. There can be a parked car round the corner or some potholes in the road. In general, the roads are worse than in France or Spain so you have to be more alert."

"Normally in the Tour the weather is bit better as well. Last year was good in the Giro, but I can remember some very rainy Giro, like in 2019 and 2010 and two years ago [2021] it was absolutely terrible."

But even with those risks and meteorological uncertainty, Mollema says the Giro retains a real sense of attraction.

"It's a bit more old school in Italy. Luckily we have a chef and the food in Italy is normally not so bad, anyway. But some of the [team] hotels are, let's say, not the same: there are a lot of old ones."

"But even that, in a race, has its charm. The Giro has always been a hard race for me, to tell the truth. Maybe it's the time of year, maybe it's the weather."

"But I do like the Giro, maybe the Vuelta suits me better with the hot weather, but it's a nice race and it normally helps me take a small step towards the Tour, too. Whenever I've won a stage in the Tour - in 2017 and again in 2021 - I've always done the Giro beforehand. Normally after I've done it, I feel really good." 

Completing the collection

Mollema wins a stage of the 2013 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty)

Already with Tour and Vuelta stage wins in his palmares, Mollema is still on the hunt for his first stage win in the Giro. It will be one of his goals for the 2023 race, along with offering team support work for Trek-Segafredo sprinter Mads Pedersen.

Mollema is a veteran breakaway specialist, one of the last of an increasingly rare breed, and with a career stretching back to 2008, he's had ample opportunity to contrast the three Grand Tours when it comes to making a move into the move of the day.

"The Giro and the Tour are the two hardest to get into breaks. But in the Tour I'd say it's a bit tougher, it'll take maybe 70 or 80 kilometres for the break of the day to get going."

Another important difference is that as there are fewer top teams in Italy, the Giro is very different to the Tour, where home squads often seem more determined to keep their own country's rivals out of the break than get in the break themselves.

"There are usually quite a few smaller Italian teams in the Giro and their only goal is the break," Mollema points out. 

"So rather than fight each other, they just want to make it happen." In the process, a specialist like Mollema can hitch a ride themselves and perhaps have a chance.

Last year, when on the hunt for that long-sought Giro stage win, he got second on stage 7 to Potenza after a 140km breakaway. He was beaten by fellow Dutchman Koen Bouwman of Jumbo-Visma. 

He is honest enough to say that second was pretty much as good as it was ever going to get.

"I got second in that stage that Koen Bouwman won and I was with Davide Formolo and Tom Dumoulin in the break. But it wasn't really close," he recalls.

"I tried to attack on a late climb but then in the last 10 kilometres, Dumoulin brought Bouwman back up and in the finale he was too strong. So I'm not sure that was really close."

"I also got third in a time trial a few years back in the Giro when we finished in San Marino, but again, Roglic also had that one sewn up. So that wasn't that close either!"

Mollema's second role in the Giro this year will be acting in support of team leader Mads Pedersen, who is also aiming to complete his Grand Tour 'set' of stage wins. 

The third pillar of Trek-Segafredo's Giro campaign, Giulio Ciccone, has unfortunately been knocked out after he caught COVID-19.

BMollema rejects the idea that he'll now have a similar role to Lotto-Dstny's Thomas de Gendt, another top breakaway specialist. In the past De Gendt has raced the Giro working partly for a sprinter, Caleb Ewan and partly on the hunt for breaks.

"I don't have quite the same physique as Thomas, so we'll have to see what each stage is like and how well Mads is doing," Mollema says cautiously.

"He'll definitely want stages and maybe the points jersey as well. If he's climbing well enough, he'll definitely want to give that a try."

While a gifted time triallist, Mollema recognises rarely has the chance to race in an event where he actually has a chance of getting a win rather than a good placing (last year's Nationals being the exception that proved the rule) and instead he increasingly finds himself acting in a combined role of team captain or support for the younger riders in his team.

It's a job he had to do for over a week in last year's Giro in the full glare of the media, when teammate JuanPe López held the maglia rosa for nearly half the race, from stage 4 to stage 13.

While Mollema had the same role in a Grand Tour in 2019 when Ciccone briefly held the Tour de France lead for two stages, he says that was a different kettle of fish in the Giro because "with JuanPe we just had no idea how long he could hold it, so we were just enjoying it every day. But then JuanPe showed on the Blockhaus [stage 9] that he could hold it for much longer than we expected."

"It wasn't a big surprise, he'd done well in the Itzulia that year, but in a Grand Tour, it was super cool to see."

"Myself, I don't have the level to fight for GC any more and I agree with the team that in the last two years not to try. But I think I still have a good level in the Classics, I got seventh in Il Lombardia last year, fourth in the Clásica San Sebastian, did well in Liège until I got caught in the big crash [where Julian Alaphilippe was badly injured - Ed.] I've got a contract til 2026, but my role has changed a lot, I've switched more to that helper's role now."

His first goal, in any case, is to hit top form at the Giro d'Italia. 

"I did okay in the Algarve, got in the top 10, but in the last month I've had pretty mixed feelings and I wasn't feeling so great in Basque. So the initial aim to is to be at 100 percent, and then we'll see."

"I don't do the last part of the Giro holding back for the Tour. Even just to finish the Giro is always tough, but I know I will recover well afterwards, I go out for a ride two or three times and then afterwards I start feel good. It's tough, but I feel like I need the Giro to set me for the summer." 

Bird attacks! 

Cyclists pass by a sign warning people of swooping magpies in the fan zone at the UCI 2022 Road World Championships (Image credit: Getty)

In any Mollema interview after the drama of last year's World's, it feels almost obligatory to ask him about the freak bird incidents in Australia, first when he was dive-bombed by a magpie, then when he was targeted by a seagull in the mixed relay event a few days later.

Mollema laughs when asked about the freak coincidence, which fortunately ended in some spectacular photos but no injuries, either for himself or his feathered 'friends'.

"The first one was a magpie of some kind, there were a lot of them about," he says, "luckily it didn't hurt and it ended up on video, too. But the second time the bird was coming in really fast. I'd been dropped, fortunately, by that point in the race so I was just cruising to the finish."

"I actually forgot about it really fast, and I was in the car an hour afterwards, talking to my wife and I said 'yeah, I almost hit a bird,' and all the other guys on the team were laughing when they heard me and saying 'yeah, yeah, for sure you hit another one.' But then all the photos came out and they could see it was actually a pretty big one."

Who's going to win the Giro?

Bauke Mollema on the final stage of the 2022 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty)

When it comes to big hitters of the two-wheeled variety, rather than the feathered sort, Mollema is a long way out of the GC spectrum, but he has a clear idea of whom he thinks the main contender is to wear pink in Rome in three weeks’ time.

“It's hard to say, but I think Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma is the top favourite, even if it’ll be a big fight with those other guys," Mollema predicts. 

Last year if Roglic hadn’t crashed out in the last part of the Vuelta, I’m not sure Remco Evenepoel would have won it, because Roglic was getting a lot closer, pulling back time. However, if Evenepoel is only a few percent better than he was last year, then he could start pulling back time on Roglic."

“Geraint Thomas has got a good TT but he won’t drop the other guys. Then Joao Almeida is always good, Jay Vine will be up there, Alexandre Vlasov of Bora-Hansgrohe too, and Thymen Arensman of Ineos Grenadiers is another rider who could surprise people.”

“Thymen got sixth in the Vuelta last year, and he did a really good Giro as well. We haven’t seen too much of him this year. I think he’s had some punctures and bad moments and so on, but he’s definitely a rider who could finish in the top five.”

As he says, Mollema himself will not be a contender for the Giro GC anymore, of course. But if he finally nails his Giro stage win, it'll be another massive addition to his own palmares and proof that no matter how much of an unpredictable adventure the Giro may be each year, it can, finally, be conquered: just like any other bike race.

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