Bauke Mollema and Alberto Contador left everything on the road for the last mountain stage of the 2017 Tour de France that ended on the iconic climb of the Col d'Izoard.
Mollema joined the gigantic breakaway that escaped shortly after the start of the 179-kilometer stage 18 and rode through the constant attacks that split apart the break numerous times, until finally, a group of 10 escaped in the valley ahead of the Izoard.
"I wanted to be in the break today, and the group was a bit bigger than expected, but there weren't any guys there that were a big threat to Froome or the GC guys," said Mollema. "At the beginning, we worked really well together, but after a while, in a big group like this, people start attacking and then it was a big mess. Always groups in front, always riders attacking, and groups coming back.
"Then, in the end, it was a pity that those 10 guys got away and they started the last climb with over a minute in front of my group. I just tried to do a good last climb, and I passed a lot of guys. And then in one moment, Contador came to me with (Warren) Barguil, and I did a good pull for him, maybe one or two kilometers. After that, it was more or less over for me. It was good to ride a Tour in a different way, to go for breakaways compared to riding for the GC - less stressful for sure. It was a good experience."
Mollema gave everything he had left to assist Contador, who had accelerated from the yellow jersey group on the Col d'Izoard in one final bold attempt. Contador quickly bridged up to Warren Barguil (Sunweb), who had attacked moments earlier, and Mollema was just ahead.
Mollema waited for his teammate, but it was clear that the Spanish teammate was near the end of his rope, yesterday's effort still in the legs, and all that moved Contador forward was sheer determination – the fighting spirit of a champion never dies.
Barguil pulled ahead – he would go on to catch the last of the breakaway and capture his second Tour victory – while the two Trek-Segafredo teammates put in their last big climbing effort of this year's race.
"Today my sensations were very bad during the whole day, probably due to yesterday's efforts," said Contador. "I knew that everybody would be tired at the end, and that happened, but it was a pity to not have the same legs of yesterday. I paid for that effort."
"Barguil is a rider that makes many changes of pace, and for that I preferred to be with Bauke as much as possible, but the truth is that he is finishing the Tour very, very strong. Congrats to him," he added.
The yellow jersey group would eventually catch back Contador, and it was not long before they began to attack and everything shattered, leaving only the top three contenders intact to the finish. Chris Froome (Sky) maintained his grip on yellow, and the podium will likely be determined in the time trial Saturday.
Contador crossed the line in 10th place, one minute and nine seconds behind Barguil, who would leapfrog over Contador into 9th place overall.
A result was never going to be easy for Contador, especially after all his crashes and less than normal feelings on the climbs, but his fight never fizzled.
Right to the last mountain, he never stopped trying.
"It's true that I haven't done the Tour I wanted, and for me maybe has been the worst Tour when speaking about victories, but not about satisfaction. Yesterday the public gave to me so much support and love, with this attack from far away, and I know the sponsors want victories, but also this gives publicity. Yesterday everybody enjoyed cycling, and I'm proud to be part of that," he said.