Bauke Mollema rebounded back to his usual form in a hard-hitting stage 15 at the Giro d'Italia Sunday, arriving at the finish with the small GC favorites group after a searing-fast race and a series of climbs in the final part pared the peloton to its strongest.
A feisty Mollema attacked in the final 600-700 meters, hoping to catch out the faster finishers, but was caught 150 meters from the line and finished in 10th.
Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) sprinted to the win from the 12-strong group - all GC contenders - that arrived at the finish together.
"It was perfect today," said Mollema. "I think as a team we did a really good job. Before the first climb already with Mads (Pedersen) and Jasper (Stuyven) who brought all the climbers in a good position at the front, and then in the finale with Jesus (Hernandez) and Pete (Stetina).
"The last climb was steep and narrow and you needed a good position. I was there, and I felt much better than yesterday. It was a really hard day; it took a few hours until the break finally went, but I think we did a really good job today."
I made my race finish line the bottom of that climb and made sure [Bauke] was in good position so he could attack over the top.
It was a motivated, cohesive team that helped Mollema amend a disappointing stage 14 yesterday when he lost almost two minutes, a rare performance from a rider who is usually steadfast in his consistency.
It took over two hours for a break to form, the average speed a searing 52km/h, and then never relented much with many teams hunting a stage win and running out of stages.
"It was full gas all day, and it took 110kms for the breakaway to go, and when it finally did, teams immediately started pulling," explained Stetina about the crazy fast start to stage 15. "There was never any respite; it became a race of attrition."
The team's two biggest engines, Pedersen and Stuyven, led Mollema safely into the first of two categorized climbs, and then Jesus Hernandez and Peter Stetina took the reins, shielding Bauke until the final tricky uphill with under five kilometers to go where everything detonated.
"Mads and Jasper put Bauke and I into perfect position into the real big climb, and there was already a real big selection," continued Stetina. "And then it was just full on to the end. There were a bunch of crashes; Bauke had to pull some cyclocross moves around Quintana at one point, and Jesus and I were there to support him."
When Nairo Quintana (Movistar) slid out on a descent, it added to the craziness of a race that was quickly turning into an epic affair. Race leader Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) calmed the peloton briefly, no easy feat, and Quintana returned quickly.
The action, on maximum all day, peaked on a sharp, tight cobbled uphill, and Mollema was there, amongst the top wheels, back to his usual tenacity.
"Coming into the very final climb, the group was pretty whittled down, and I just started riding in the wind next to the leadout teams to make sure Bauke started the final little kicker with five kilometers to go in the first 10 wheels," said Stetina. "So I made my race finish line the bottom of that climb and made sure he was in good position so he could attack over the top.
"Yeah, we got through a real difficult day; numbers-wise it was one of my biggest race days this year."