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Early sprint and team strength key to Mollema’s opening victory at Tour du Var

After his victory on the opening stage of the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var on Friday, Trek-Segafredo leader Bauke Mollema told of just how he managed to beat out more explosive finishers such as AG2R Citroën’s Greg Van Avermaet and Groupama-FDJ’s Valentin Madouas on the six per cent rise to the line in Gourdon.

The stage took in three climbs up to the village in the Préalpes d’Azur natural park – not a high or steep mountain, but one which shook up the general classification on day one of three. With a peloton of 28 following closely after the Dutchman, it won’t be the most selective climb of the race, but Mollema knew what he had to do to come out on top – go early.

“It was a finish for fast and explosive riders, it was not a super, super hard climb, so I was expecting it would come down to the final 800 metres where it was a bit steeper again,” he said after the stage.

“I did the recon, and I knew this climb very well since I live 50 to 60 kilometres from here. I knew I had to go early because I have the power, and I didn’t want to be boxed in and lose positions.  The team did a great job protecting me in front – great leadout – and I just went at 300 to 350 metres. It was a long sprint, but I made it.”

Trek-Segafredo were prominent on the front of the peloton during the day, working at the front earlier on and then coming to the fore on the final ascent – a duty they shared with Madouas’ team.

Mollema’s teammates Kenny Elissonode, Gianluca Brambilla, and Giulio Ciccone (who finished fifth) were laying the groundwork for him into the final kilometre, and on the final kick to the line it was up to the man himself, though he still had to battle 2020 winner, Arkéa-Samsic’s Nairo Quintana.

“In the last kilometre, we were still there with Elissonde, Brambilla, and Ciccone and I was in the perfect position,” Mollema said. “Quintana went pretty fast with 500 metres to go, and with 350 to go, I just knew I had to go and make a long sprint of it because guys like Van Avermaet and Madouas are more explosive than me.

“I knew I had to trust my own power and start the sprint early. I had a small gap, and in the last 100 metres, I was losing some speed on the steep section to the line, but luckily, they didn’t take me back anymore.

“Ciccone is also a strong climber for a finish like this, and we both felt good and wanted to give it a try. I felt really good the whole day, the guys did a really good leadout, and I could use the good legs today and luckily take the win. It’s a really nice start to this race and nice to take a win this early in the season.”

The win – the 15th of Mollema’s 14-year career, puts him in yellow and in prime position to take his third career stage race victory after the 2015 Tour of Alberta and the 2017 Vuelta a San Juan. He won’t be able to rely on his single-second lead though, especially considering the three first-category climbs which line Sunday’s route. This weekend, Mollema’s team will once again be called upon.

“There are two hard stages coming up: it’s a super hard three-day stage race,” he said. “Sunday is really the queen stage, a real mountain stage. I am looking forward to these next two days. The feeling is good, and we are here with a strong team, and hopefully we can defend the jersey.”

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