A storybook performance on a mythical climb

Kenny Elissonde and Bauke Mollema finish 2nd and 3rd in a thrilling race on Mount Ventoux

Trek-Segafredo did everything right.  They placed three top climbers in the Stage 11 breakaway. They played faultless tactics. They did all that was possible in a bid for stage glory, yet…Wout.

“I think we did a great team performance today,” agreed Mollema, “I am proud how the team rode. We had three guys in the breakaway of eight. Julien [Bernard] rode hard to make the gap bigger to the peloton, Kenny [Elissonde] was really strong, and it was nice to work together with him for the last 5k of the climb and the downhill to at least stay in front of the GC guys.

“But in the end, there was one rider stronger than us. Van Aert deserved his win today; there was not much to do about him.”

Photo: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Trek-Segafredo had the numbers in the breakaway with Bernard, Elissonde and Mollema, a factor that helped in establishing the gap to the general classification group with Bernard putting in a massive amount of work.

After Julien pulled like a mad man into the bottom of the second ascent of Mont Ventoux, King Kenny accelerated off the front, leaving Bauke Mollema with Julien Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert.  At this point, the team appeared in control.

“I knew the very bottom of Ventoux is the hardest and Julien did a really nice job to keep a good pace, and then I said, okay, I go straightway,” Elissonde explained. “Because then maybe they will think it’s too far. Bauke said he was feeling good, and I decided to make an action and not just pull with the guys in our wheels to not be on the backfoot. So I went. It was the perfect time to try and put the others in difficulty.”

Then Wout attacked.  Mollema and Alaphilippe could not follow, and the tables turned.

“Wout van Aert went so strong on the last climb, I tried to follow but I couldn’t. And then I was only doing my own tempo until the top to get closer, but I think it was clear he was the strongest today,” continued Mollema.

There was still a long climb to the top of Ventoux, plenty of road left, and Bauke, as Bauke always does, continued to fight on while Alaphilippe cracked.

Van Aert caught Elissonde, and the two climbed together until the pace of the Belgian was too much.

“In the end, I tried to keep my rhythm, and then I saw Wout coming back, and then he dropped me. He was the strongest, and when you find someone stronger than you in this kind of climb, you cannot hide,” added Elissonde.

Photo: A.S.O./Charly Lopez

The gap grew, and when it was apparent that Kenny could not close any distance to Van Aert, he waited for Bauke. Van Aert crossed the top with over a minute’s gap to the two Trek-Segafredo teammates and the GC rivals group not far behind.

Mollema explained: “The last 5k of [Ventoux] are a little bit more flat and always windy, so it was better to work together there with the two of us. We knew (Jonas) Vingegaard was coming up and we really wanted to stay in front of him and the GC riders on top of the climb to finish on the podium.

“Also, in the downhill with two you are faster than alone. It was nice for the team to finish with two of us on the podium. Of course, we would have loved to win, but Wout van Aert is such a special rider.”

The two Trek-Segafredo teammates shared the worked through the long 21-kilometer descent and crossed the line together.

It was not a win, but Trek-Segafredo wrote a big part of the story on an iconic climb that often produces big sagas.

“We really wanted to secure the 2nd and 3rd place after all the teamwork we did today to have at least a result,” said Elissonde, awarded the most combative for Stage 11. “We went full gas to resist the group behind. I am really proud of all the teamwork we did today. At the start you could see guys like Jasper (Stuyven) helping bring me back to good position in the peloton and to help get us in the breakaway.

“I am really proud of the team today,” he echoed. “I have the combativity prize, but we should have been all three on the podium – they deserved it the same as me.”