Bauke Mollema proved the strongest in the Japan Cup road race, out-kicking Michael Woods (EF-Education First) in a two-up sprint to take the win in Utsunomiya Sunday. It gives the 32-year-old Dutch climber two successive wins after an impressive victory in Il Lombardia, and his second win in the Japan Cup after winning the race in 2015.
“I am super happy with the win. It was a hard race!” exclaimed Mollema. “The sprint went really well; I think it surprised him a little – I did a good sprint. It’s a nice way to finish the season after Lombardy last week already; it’s always a good atmosphere in Japan and great fans.”
Early in the race, a leading group of eight riders formed with Giulio Ciccone, a perfect scenario for Trek-Segafredo. Not having to do any work behind, Mollema could sit back and let the other teams make the pace and wait for his moment.
“We had Giulio in the front group, so that was perfect with us, he was with seven guys, and we didn’t have to pull behind, and he was the strongest guy in the break,” explained Mollema. “The other teams made it quite hard – it’s a hard lap here with the climb – and every lap it went pretty fast up the climb, especially the last 5-6 laps. And it’s a tricky downhill, so it was always fighting for positioning.”
With 14 laps of 10.3-kilometres, the Kogashi forest climb took a toll, trimming the peloton by the final laps, until Mollema’s acceleration on the uphill with two to go blew everything apart.
“With two laps to go, there were maybe 15-20 guys left, and I decided to give it a try,” continued Mollema. “It was quite early still, almost 20k to go, but Jumbo was there with four guys in 15, and they were attacking one by one, so I preferred to drop some of them.
“I went full gas up the climb, and only Woods could follow, so from then on, we worked really well together until the finish line. We at first only had 20-30 seconds, but then on the last lap, it went to almost one-minute, so it was clear we were going to fight for the win.”
With Woods for company, the pair worked well together to stay away. In the sprint Mollema showed, perhaps, an unexpected fast jump – but never underestimate the Dutch climber, who is brimming with confidence that comes with good late-season legs on top of a massive win in Lombardy. Mollema handily beat Woods to end his season on a high.
“I felt really good the whole day myself; in the last weeks, months already actually, but today especially the legs were good,” said Mollema. “It’s a nice way to finish the season.”