In an interview after stage 12, Bauke Mollema said he was looking forward to the stage 13 time trial after rigorous preparations for the race against the clock that included training on the grueling 37.5-kilometer course. For someone not known for his time trial prowess, it was a bold statement.
But he wasn't kidding.
Friday the lanky Dutchman put his specific preparations to the test and rode the best time trial of his career to better all his GC rivals but one, and launch him into second place overall behind Chris Froome (Sky).
"No doubt, it was the best time trial of my life," exclaimed Mollema. "I was well prepared, and I knew the course very well as I had done recon on it. I trained a lot on my TT bike, and I also had a lighter bike specifically for today."
The 37.5-kilometer test against the clock began and ended with climbs, and gusty winds blustered the riders the entire distance. Mollema set a quick pace at the first intermediate time check and never relented over the succeeding checkpoints. Instead, he continued to build a margin over his rivals with only Froome posting faster times.
"It was always windy, and I think it was an advantage for me since I am used to riding with a lot of wind in the Netherlands," continued Mollema. "It was dangerous at some points, but overall it was fine. It was a really hard time trial: the start was uphill, and the last 3kms were uphill, so you needed extra power there. At the bottom of the last climb, I took a bit of a breather and then went full gas to the top."
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) won the stage 13 'race of truth' handily, winning by over a minute in a time of 50:15.
It's a big gap with Froome, and I am just happy where I am right now.
Froome finished second (+1:03) and padded his lead in yellow, while Mollema was clearly the best of the rest of the GC contenders, finishing in 6th place (+1:54) to move solidly into second overall, ahead of Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange).
"It's a big gap with Froome, and I am just happy where I am right now," answered Mollema when asked whether he could eventually overtake Froome. "There is still a long way to go; I feel good. I am confident that I can keep this place."
Theuns crashes and fractures vertebra
Edward Theuns crashed while navigating a high speed decent during the time trial, sustaining a compressed fracture of the T12 vertebra.
Further tests revealed the compression fracture unstable and Theuns will undergo surgery, the date and place still to be determined. The fractured bone requires stabilization through surgery due to the high risk for neurological complications.
Theuns: "I feel very disappointed because I was feeling good and was going okay and now suddenly everything comes to a stop. The pain is not bad, but I am tensed to not move my body and its very uncomfortable. I am nervous about the operation.
"I was feeling good in the TT, having a good tempo, and my legs felt good. I was planning to ease back more at the end because I had made a good tempo until then. I came into a downhill corner at around kilometer 23 and the wind grabbed my wheel and I had to correct a little and went off the road. I thought I had it, but then hit a tree trunk on the ground and went over my bike and landed quite hard. I directly felt that my back was not okay."