There is no doubt that the Clasica San Sebastian is a race Bauke Mollema favors after finishing on the podium for the second straight year. Although he was not able to repeat his last year victory in the 231-kilometer Basque classic, Mollema arrived at the finish with a select group of riders and fought his way to third in the five-up sprint, something that is not his forte.
"I always like this race, and I always feel good after the Tour. I did a few criteriums this week, and that helped me stay in the rhythm and keep the speed. I felt good today, the whole day, and in this race it all comes down to the last climb, the steep one at the end," said Mollema.
With the gradient reaching over 18 percent at the top of the final climb, and after a whopping 220 kilometers had been raced, there was no hiding: the strongest riders emerged. Mikel Landa (Sky) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) were the first to accelerate and open a gap while Mollema bridged across to the pair before the summit.
"I felt good there at the top, I was with the best riders, with Gallopin and Landa, and I wanted to go with these guys to the finish because there I maybe had a chance in the sprint, so I pulled full gas the first part of the descent. But then (Michal) Kwiatkowski came back, then (Tom) Dumoulin, and that was a pity because then Sky had two guys there and Kwiatkowski is really fast," Mollema added.
On the descent, Kwiatkowski bridged across, and Dumoulin grabbed back the four leaders with 2.5 kilometers to go.
With two teammates in the five, the numbers favored Team Sky. In the final 1500 meters, Landa accelerated with Dumoulin giving chase. Mollema, not willing to let a podium slip from his grasp so easily, closed the gap to the two, and then still had enough to pull out a third place in the sprint.
"I knew it would be really difficult and I just tried to do my best sprint. I think I did a pretty good sprint, but those guys are just faster in a finish like this," explained Mollema. "Now I get a bit of a break after doing the Giro and the Tour, I've been racing a lot already. I hope to be ready again for the last month of the season."
Final race for Zubeldia
Haimar Zubeldia ended his 20-year career at Clasica San Sebastian Saturday, finishing in 29th place after helping chase back a dangerous 12-man breakaway with 17 kilometers remaining. It was a fitting way to cap his career, one built on being an incredibly steadfast and loyal teammate, and to finish it all in a race dear to his heart.
"Today one dream has come true: this is where I always dreamed to finish my career. I tried to enjoy it the whole day. There were a lot of supporters the whole way, this is my home race," said Zubeldia. "It feels a little strange. I know this is my last race, but honestly, I don’t feel like it is the last race. I think I need more time for it to sink in and for me to realize it and really enjoy this day."