Bauke Mollema continued where he finished off in Friday’s stage 19 with another strong climbing day to move up another rung in the leaderboard. Mollema, who started the day in eighth overall, climbed the final mountain of this year’s Tour de France - the famed Alpe d’Huez - often leading the select group that also contained Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali to finish with enough time to jump ahead of Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling) into seventh place.
There were two men that Mollema needed to heed: Frank, who was 43 seconds ahead in seventh place, and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), 46 seconds behind in 9th.
Mollema: “Already in the first climb Frank did not look so good, so I was confident that I would pass him because Alpe d’Huez is such a hard climb and if you are not in good shape anymore it’s quite easy to take 45 seconds back.
“And Bardet I was not sure of because he was looking really strong, but then already at the bottom of Alpe d’Huez, after 2k of climbing, I saw already he was suffering. That gave me even extra morale because I knew I was going to move to seventh place.”
The final day in the Alps was the last chance to unseat the yellow jersey of Sky’s Chris Froome, and the GC battle went full gas in the sole two big mountain climbs of the stunted 110-kilometer penultimate stage 20.
When the attacks of Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) were neutralized by Froome and Nibali on the descent off the long Col de la Croix de Fer - climbed for the second day in a row albeit from another side - everything regrouped before the iconic Alpe d’Huez.
Bauke Mollema and a strong Bob Jungels - who has performed better and better as the race has gone on - were part of a large group that rejoined the select four riders. Calm returned again as Sky seized control at the front.
On the first climb my legs were good but I was not 100 percent sure I would also have good legs on Alpe d’Huez.
In the valley ahead of the Alpe d’Huez a small group set off in pursuit of the day’s early four-man breakaway that still held an advantage. The chase group was soon whittled to two, then one, as Thibaut Pinot (Fdj.fr) rode away to claim the win atop the famous uphill.
Behind the GC battle continued. Quintana and Valverde again played the chief antagonists while Nibali hit misfortune with a puncture just as the climb began.
No one could stay with strong legs of Quintana, and although he gained over a minute’s time on Froome it was not enough to take over the yellow jersey. Quintana also fell 18 seconds shy of the stage win.
Further back Mollema led his group across the line three and half minutes later for 14th place on the stage.
“On the first climb my legs were good,” said Mollema. “But I was not 100 percent sure I would also have good legs on Alpe d’Huez. It was a headwind and I was with Nibali the whole time, we had good collaboration. We caught Contador, then at the end Nibali wasn’t racing anymore, but I was, so I pulled.
“I had a good day, it was short but really hard with the two climbs, especially the first one which was 30kms – that was really long and hard. On Alpe d’Huez with all the Dutch people that gave me something extra today. I felt quite good. I followed Nibali and we were riding together, and in the end we slowed down a little bit and the rest of the group came back, but I am happy to move to seventh place.”