‘I knew I had to go early’: Mollema out-punches the puncheurs

The Trek-Segafredo climber wins the uphill finish of Stage 1 at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var

Three times up Col de Gourdon was like candy for Bauke Mollema, and on the final ascent he jumped early and claimed a sweet victory in Stage 1 of the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var.

The 8-kilometer climb with an average gradient of 4% was not difficult enough to separate the top climbers, but it was perfect for the puncheurs. Mollema knew he had to be patient, but not too patient: feeling good and not wanting to be caught on the back foot, he jumped first.

“It was a finish for fast and explosive riders, it was not a super, super hard climb, so I was expecting it would come down to the final 800 meters where it was a bit steeper again,” explained Mollema. “I did the recon, and I knew this climb very well since I live 50-60 kilometers from here.  I knew I had to go early because I have the power, and I didn’t want to be boxed in and lose positions.  The team did a great job protecting me in front — great leadout — and I just went with 300-350 meters to go. It was a long sprint, but I made it. Yeah, super nice.”

Nairo Quintana upped the ante in the final half kilometer, giving Mollema the launchpad he needed. Knowing that faster puncheurs were waiting to pounce, the Dutch climber accelerated with over 300 meters to go.

“In the last kilometer, we were still there with Elissonde, Brambilla and Ciccone, and I was in the perfect position. Quintana went pretty fast with 500 meters to go, and with 350 to go, I just knew I had to go and make a long sprint of it because guys like Van Avermaet and Madouas are more explosive than me,” said Mollema.  “I knew I had to trust my own power and start the sprint early. I had a small gap, and in the last 100 meters, I was losing some speed on the steep section to the line, but luckily they didn’t take me back anymore.”

Trek-Segafredo had a one-two punch for the finish with Mollema and Ciccone, two on-form riders, and they each had a green light for the uphill finish. In the end, Mollema took the initiative and held on for the win, with Ciccone finishing in fifth place. A good sign for the next two days.

“Ciccone is also a strong climber for a finish like this, and we both felt good and wanted to give it a try. I felt really good the whole day, the guys did a really good leadout, and I could use the good legs today and luckily take the win. It’s a really nice start to this race and nice to take a win this early in the season,” added Mollema.

With the win, Mollema has the leader’s jersey, and Trek-Segafredo is ready to defend the lead in a similar ending to Stage 2 on Saturday. Then everything will be up for grabs in the grand finale Sunday.

“There’s two hard stages coming up; it’s a super hard three-day stage race. Sunday is really the queen stage, a real mountain stage,” added Mollema. “I am looking forward to these next two days. The feeling is good, and we are here with a strong team, and hopefully we can defend the jersey.”