Bauke Mollema attacked his breakaway group and soloed the final 27 kilometres to take home the biggest win of his career in stage 15 of the Tour de France Sunday.
“This is for sure my biggest win. I just can’t believe it! This is what I have worked so hard for the last few years. The Tour de France has always been the most important race for me, always been my dream, and finally, I have won a stage,” said Mollema.
It was an audacious attack. One that at first seemed ill-fated with almost 30 kilometres to go and a strong breakaway group giving pursuit. But Mollema never thought twice. And never relented his effort. Even when the chasers came to within 17 seconds at the top of the final category-four climb, he pushed onward, digging even deeper.
“The last kilometres were really hard. I knew I had to try because I am not so explosive and I would not have won the sprint,” explained Mollema about his attack. “I was pushing all the time, and in one moment it came back to 11 seconds. At that moment, I was thinking I have to go; I don’t want to lose it now.
“So with two kilometres to go, I just gave everything I had. Yesterday I had seen the last six kilometres on Google maps, so I knew the corners more or less, so I didn’t blow up, I could keep going to the finish line.”
“Then in the last kilometre I knew I still had 10-15 seconds, so at that moment I knew I was going to make it. The last few hundred meters were so nice. I could really celebrate, enjoy all the people, and enjoy winning a Tour de France stage. I will never forget this,” he added.
The day did not start as well for the team after they missed the first breakaway and had to push their way to the front after the road was blocked with teams content to let a group of ten ride away. It was a team effort to get Mollema also up the road.
“At the beginning of the stage it was close to not making it [in the break],” said Mollema. “A breakaway went with 10 guys, and a lot of teams wanted to block the road, and we were not able to pass, and they took like one and a half minutes.
“Finally, Michael Gogl and Koen De Kort could pass, they went through the grass to get to the front! They did an amazing job because that is why I could win. They kept the speed high in the peloton until the first climb and then I pulled from the bottom. I didn’t get much help, I pulled the whole climb, and finally we got away with 25 guys and could bridge to the five ahead. After that, I had to recover because it was a big effort.”
With the breakaway group finally established and the peloton content the gap ballooned to over nine minutes. There was no doubt that the winner of the stage would come from one of the men out front.
From the breakaway, Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) was the first to try, even gaining over 90 seconds to the rest of the escapees, but his effort and the steep gradient of the category one climb ended his bid.
It was Mollema’s attack, like Martin’s when he accelerated on a descent, that also seemed to be headed to the same unsuccessful outcome coming so far from the end. But Mollema persisted, knowing waiting was a bigger guarantee of failure.
“I saw Tony Martin that he also attacked in a small descent earlier, and I knew that I could keep going once I am in the front. When I looked back, and I saw a small gap in that descent I just went all-in from that moment. Alain (Gallopin, director) was motivating me and giving me time gaps.
“I don’t think I have ever did so long an attempt at riding alone, it was close, but in the end I made it. I think this means a lot for the team – we really wanted to go for it today.”
“I have never been on the podium in the Tour de France, so this is really special to be there. I have been close a few time in the last five years, and today was just my day. Yeah, I am really happy.”