Bauke Mollema finished with the small group of general classification favorites at the top of Mount Etna, the first mountain summit finish of the 2017 Giro d'Italia, to keep him in contention in the battle for the top three podium.
The day after a rest day in a Grand Tour can be a dubious test for many riders uncertain how the legs will respond, but a stiff headwind up Etna aided in keeping the contenders together.
"I am happy it is over because I didn't feel so good today actually," admitted Mollema after the race. "The second half of the race the legs were not so good. In the start, I felt good, but then in one moment… With an uphill finish and you have bad legs, you are always afraid to lose time. I was lucky actually it was a headwind on the last climb; I was suffering a lot."
Mount Etna (©bettiniphoto)
It was a thorny approach to the day's main obstacle, and Trek-Segafredo rallied to bring Mollema to the foot of Mount Etna in the best possible condition: first, when Eugenio Alafaci jumped into the day's four-man breakaway, allowing the team to sit back for most of the race (and creating much ado for the Italian with the '70's mustache), then positioning Mollema at the front ahead of the key 17-kilometer uphill.
"It was a really stressful run-in to Etna," explained Peter Stetina, who supported Mollema for most of the climb. "Sicily has some pretty beat up roads, and the most technical part was downhill cobbles right before we went through the city and started the climb, but all our guys did a great job and kept Bauke and me in the front. We started the climb in the front wheels, and it became more of a tactical climb: the wind kept switching directions, and it was pitchy with false flats followed by super steep sections."
Eugenio Alafaci (©bettiniphoto)
While the favorites remained locked in battle, ahead Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) was creating the day's main headline, the last survivor of the breakaway that departed in the first few kilometers of the 181-kilometer race.
While Polanc gave a fantastic solo effort, several riders attacked out of the GC contenders group, but none gained much headway. That is until Ilnur Zakirin (Katusha-Alpecin) bolted away in the final two kilometers.
Polanc held on for the win, 19 seconds ahead of Zakirin, who managed to finish 10 seconds ahead of the favorites group and gain back most of the time he lost to a mechanical in stage two.
Bauke Mollema finishes with all the favorites. (©bettiniphoto)
Despite his poor sensations, Bauke Mollema finished in 9th place and did not lose any time to his rivals, most who are at the same time in the classification, 10 seconds behind Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), who will wear pink into stage five tomorrow.
"The first climb was really long but not so steep, and that went okay," added Mollema. "On the last climb, I was not feeling so good, and I was happy that I finished with the favorites. For once, in the end, it was coming back a little bit, so I could still be there with the group. It was a good day to have a bad day."
While Mollema was not feeling his best, Stetina was able to take up the slack, helping him on the long, undulant climb.
"I had a good day, and was able to stay with Bauke until 3kms to go," said Stetina "Whenever it would flatten out, I would make a surge into the wind and move Bauke into the front wheels, then I'd be a little pinned and I'd slide to the back, conserve, and then make another big push with him. I came off with 3k to go, but it looked like with that headwind finish they all finished together. First big mountaintop day and our team showed that we can fight on all terrain. It was a really good team performance."