One hundred and eighty-three riders clipped into their pedals to start the 167-kilometer stage 10 toward the first mountain summit finish of this year’s Tour de France, a 15.3-kilometer beast at 7.4%.
After nine stages the first long climb is always a shock to the system, and coming after the first rest day made it even more precarious – how would the legs respond was certainly a question on many riders’ minds.
For Chris Froome (Team Sky) the question was answered with a dominating performance, but for Bauke Mollema - who finished 4:09 behind the yellow jersey - it was not the answer he wanted.
Mollema stayed with the Froome leading group for over five kilometers until losing contact with Vicenzo Nibali (Astana) and Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step). He climbed with this select group until the final kilometer and crossed the line in 17th place – not the result he hoped for.
Today was our first mountain stage and that was difficult right after a rest day and after a week of flatter stages.
Mollema: “I just couldn’t go fast. At the bottom of the climb, the speed was so high and I just couldn’t follow. I tried to go as fast as possible to the top and I was with Nibali all the time. But I just didn’t have any power in the legs.
“It was a really easy start until the last 20-25 kilometers; it was just easy all day. But then you knew the last climb was going to be full gas but, yeah, I don’t know…I was hoping for more today and it just didn’t go as I wanted.
“Our group was going okay in the last five kilometers, but I think in the steep part we lost a lot of time. In the last kilometer I knew I had to give everything to the finish. But in the end it was a lot of time lost today.”
In the end, it was a devastating blow to most climbers as Team Sky put on an uphill clinic to finish one-two on the stage and take a commanding early lead in the race. Chris Froome now leads second place Tejay van Garderen by nearly three minutes, and an astonishing four minutes over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) who was expected to be his biggest rival – almost all of the pre-race favorites suffered in this first taste of mountains.
“Sometimes after the rest day it’s dangerous because you relax too much and you pay the next day,” explained Tour veteran Haimar Zubeldia. “But also, today was our first mountain stage and that was difficult right after a rest day and after a week of flatter stages; then the feeling is not so good the first time in the mountains. We also started so slowly with only two guys in the breakaway. Then, when we hit the climb Movistar pulled full gas and we saw immediately big explosions.
“But it was nice to see all the Basque flags since we are close to the border. For us, it is so great to see, especially in the Tour.”
There was little desire amid the peloton to form a breakaway with the long, predominantly flat run-in to the ending hors catégorie climb on La Pierre-Saint Martin, and two men were the only volunteers to take on the fated role, making for a slow stage until the steep slope of the finishing road materialized.
When the final long climb began, it was at full-speed and many of the top climbers suffered right from the get-go.
“After a couple of kilometers I was already at my maximum,” said Mollema. “On the steepest parts if felt like I was almost standing still. You have hardly any info, but you know you are going slow. Too slow.
“I don’t have an explanation - I really felt good until today. I knew that today would tell me something about the field; it was a surprise, though, what I found, and not in what I had hoped to see.
“The gaps are substantial, but the GC battle for me is not over. Let’s see for the next days.”
Despite climbing less than his best, Bauke Mollema jumped up the leaderboard into 11th; with so many mountains yet to climb he is still well-situated to finish in the top 10, and even stands an outside chance to finish as high as top five.