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Bauke Mollema…From Classics Scholar To Giro Contender

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Like many Dutch schoolchildren Bauke Mollema rode his three-speed to school every day. But things got serious when he rigged TT extensions onto his handlebars and started timing himself. Little did he or his classmates know that a champion was in the making. But now, over a decade later, the 30-year-old is leading the Trek-Segafredo team into the upcoming Giro d’Italia—and he is going there with an eye on victory.

Words by James Startt | Images by James Startt and Ella Startt

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Peloton Magazine: Bauke, you came into the sport in a rather unique way, through your studies I believe?

Bauke Mollema: Yes, absolutely. I had an old three-speed bike, a Gazelle, like many commuters in Holland. And like many students, I would ride it to school every day. I lived about 12 kilometers from my school, so I would ride there and back every day. I remember we even put extension handlebars on our bikes to help when it was really windy, and sometimes we would even time ourselves and get a little competitive. And that’s how I got into cycling.

Peloton: What is it about the Netherlands that has produced so many cyclists? I mean, it is not the weather. And there are no mountains….

Mollema: No, for sure…but it is cultural. People have just always ridden bikes. If you go to Amsterdam or any big city, you see only bikes. That’s how people get around! It’s faster than taking a car and it’s healthier. It’s just in our genes I guess. Parents put their kids on a bike starting at three or four years old and they ride to school. And I’d have to say that the whole country is equipped for bikes. There are bike lanes, and drivers are used to sharing the road. That makes cycling safe.

Peloton: So nobody comes up yelling, “Get off of my road! I pay taxes for these roads!”

Mollema: Oh no!

Mollema first attracted attention with his strong showing in the 2013 Tour de France.
Mollema first attracted attention with his strong showing in the 2013 Tour de France.

Peloton: More and more top cyclists today manage to juggle cycling with their studies. What did you study?

Mollema: Well, I concentrated in ancient language and culture, especially Roman. I always liked French and that took me into the other languages, which took me into cultures. But it was very specialized and I eventually shifted into economics. Then, after my first year at university, I knew I was going to go professional so I had to make a choice. At that point, I really needed to focus on cycling.

Peloton: Last year you had what can only be described as a spectacular Tour de France. For most of the race you rode head to head with Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana. You were in the lead group that crashed into the motorcycle on Mont Ventoux. You were still looking to finish on the podium going into the Alps but then crashed on stage 19.

Mollema: Yeah, well, crashing is part of the sport, but it is really frustrating in the Tour de France, and you only can do the Tour once a year. But that’s cycling!

Peloton: When you look back at the Ventoux crash, how did it change the race for you?

Mollema: Well, I went over that crash a lot in my head and, in the end, I don’t think it changed that much. Sure it changed things that day, but I don’t think in the end it mattered much. I had a really good TT the next day, but I think Froome would still have held onto the yellow jersey. And, anyway, I didn’t want to take over the yellow jersey because of Froome’s problems on the Ventoux.

Peloton: And the disasterous stage 19 where you crashed and dropped from second to 10th overall?

Mollema slipped from second to 10th in the 2016 Tour de France after crashing in the Alps (Photo: Ella Startt)
Mollema slipped from second to 10th in the 2016 Tour de France after crashing in the Alps (Photo: Ella Startt)

Mollema: Yeah, well, the day before I lost a bit of time. To be honest, my knee was bothering me since my crash on the Mont Ventoux. We kept it quiet, but it was getting really painful and even on the flat stages I was not able to just relax. That said, I actually felt better that day at the start of stage 19. Going into the last descent before the final climb, I felt really good. I was always pretty good descending in the rain, so I followed the first rider Mikaël Cherel on the descent. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I was taking any risks, but my front wheel just slid out on one corner. That said, there were a lot of crashes on the descent. But [Romain] Bardet attacked just at the bottom and I came into the last kilometers maybe 30 seconds back and I think I tried to come back a little too fast and just totally exploded.

Peloton: Regardless, you were one of the revelations of the Tour last year and showed that you had good condition by winning the Clásica San Sebastián only a week later….

Mollema: Yeah, of course it is frustrating in a race like the Tour de France, but I still feel that I had a good race. Physically, I was at a level that I have never been before, and that gives me confidence knowing that I was able to get to that level in my preparation. I know how to get to a really high level now and maybe even take it a step further in the future. This year, I am focusing on the Giro d’Italia and now I am confident I can be at a really good level there.

Mollema got off to a great start in 2017 by winning the Tour of San Juan.
Mollema got off to a great start in 2017 by winning the Tour of San Juan.

Peloton: You have said that your goal is to finish on the podium of a grand tour, so I think it is safe to say that you now have your eye on the Giro podium?

Mollema: Well, my ultimate goal is to win one of them, but first I need to get on the podium and, yeah, I think the Giro gives me a great opportunity. There are going to be a lot of strong riders. Perhaps the level will be the same as at the Tour. It’s going to be a real challenge, but it’s a challenge I like. It’s my biggest goal of the season. I started racing earlier this year [at Argentina’s Tour of San Juan, which he won] and I decided to skip the Ardennes classics to rest up. I’m excited! I only did the Giro once, back in 2010, but there are a lot of uphill finishes this year, which I like. And there are two long time trials, which should suit me well. Like I said, it’s going to be a very hard race. The level is going to be a lot higher than last year I think, and that could change the way it is raced. It’s going to be a very complete race. I’m going there with the ultimate goal to win!

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