Bauke Mollema might not have celebrity status but he is increasing­ly perceived as a national treasure in the Netherland­s

- Writer Léon de Kort Image Chris Graythen/ Getty Images

The first thing Bauke Mollema says after a race is often: “It went pretty well.” It’s been going pretty well for Bauke Mollema for the best part of 14 seasons now. This stoic warrior from Groningen, aged 34, isn’t easily shaken and has long since earned a prominent place in Dutch cycling history. Even next to the real stars: Zoetemelk, Janssen, Dumoulin...

It’s certain that Mollema doesn’t much care what the world around him thinks of him. Nor in the past, when as a cyclist in training, he did not yet know that bib shorts negated the need for underwear. And now, in 2021, he still doesn’t much care about how people look at him or judge him, for example, because he’s one of very few profession­als who ride without a power meter. Bauke is just Bauke: boss of his own life. He follows his own agenda, because when he does, that’s when things go pretty well.

His free spirit, his will, his own view and the preparedne­ss to always work incredibly hard form the foundation of a successful existence as a profession­al bike racer. Maybe it’s just become a journey of discovery that will only stop once he decides that it has been great, but that it’s time to call it a day. Until that moment, the adventurer Mollema will continue tirelessly, knowing that there are always prizes waiting for him along the way, whether that is as a stage racer (targeting GC or stages - he’s been successful at both), or as a one-day racer. He won’t specialise in anything, which allows him to take each race as it comes.

This is how he phrased it himself back at the beginning of May 2010, when the management team at his first employer, Rabobank, decided he was ready for his debut at a big race. “I have nothing to lose, only to gain,” he said at the start of the Giro d’Italia in Amsterdam. “It will be a great journey of discovery for me.”

He pointed towards the leader of the team, the Russian Denis Menchov. “If he doesn’t finish in the top five, it may be seen as a disappoint­ment. But if I reach the top 10, everyone will shout about what a great result that is.”

In short, Mollema would see. And though he didn’t yet crack the top 10, he would finish 12th overall. His reaction, at the finish of the Giro in the open air theatre in Verona: “It’s been difficult. But I have also shown I can do difficult.”

This kind of reaction is typically Mollema. No matter how easily he actually makes his pedals turn, cycling will always look like hard work with him. This sport requires blood, sweat and tears, and Bauke symbolises this. He currently has 17 wins to his name, all of which have been dragged away as if from the gates of hell, and that makes him captivatin­g for cycling fans. He’s won more than most, but compared to the more famous champions, he hasn’t made it look easy. There is a reason for that.

The thing that champions have, which Mollema doesn’t, is a speciality which distinguis­hes them. Tom Dumoulin is incredibly good at time trialling. Mark Cavendish is a champion, even a legend, due to his exceptiona­l sprint. Primož Roglic is excellent at climbing and battling against the clock, Dylan Groenewege­n possesses a rocket engine in the sprint, and the same can be said of Julian Alaphilipp­e on the short, steep climbs. Finally, road racing is currently blessed with out-of-this-world riders that answer to the names Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. All-round champions, with a capital C.

Around that varied, highly talented circus swarm guys like Mollema. He can follow the best of them for a long time, and on special days even hurt them. When you combine his courage with his tactical insight and self-confidence, it’s also a breeding ground for success, just less often than the true champions. He’s not won a grand tour, but he’s been consistent, with high finishes in all three: third place at the Vuelta in 2011, sixth at the Tour two years later and fifth at the Giro in 2019. A stage win in Spain and two in France show that Mollema is more than the eternal chaser of unattainab­le results.

Add to that the great wins at the classics, with Clásica San Sebastián in 2016 and Il Lombardia in 2019, and no more proof needs to be presented. Mollema is a complete rider, a soloist by personal preference, but a jewel of his profession with his attacking habits. Fellow Dutch rider Jos van Emden, who rode with Mollema at Rabobank, says, “To me, Bauke is a great rider, someone who deserves more recognitio­n. Looking back at his win in the Tour, wasn’t that just a breath of fresh air for the whole of the cycling world? A rider who doesn’t need a computer but can feel himself what is possible.” Once again, he’s not a champion, but an irreplacea­ble pawn in the Dutch cycling system for whom admiration grows year on year, while the results just keep coming in. Which riders were talked about at the supermarke­t after the Tour de France this summer? Of course, Mathieu van der Poel

“He goes his own way, he knows what it takes to be a pro and he knows how to achieve success. He is a free spirit who saved his team” Pieter Weening

got most of the credit, but Mollema also drew attention. And while Van der Poel spectacula­rly crashed out of the Tokyo Olympic mountain bike race, which Dutch rider quietly came fourth in the men’s road race? Bauke Mollema, of course.

Jumping back to Mollema’s performanc­e in the Tour de France, he was irresistib­le during stage 14 to Quillan. He made the most of his experience, a strong head and a day with perfect legs. It was a gem of a stage win. He put everything into it, in his signature style, which resembles nothing more than a gardener raking up leaves. It was signature Mollema: bulldozing through everything, ignoring his rivals and only focusing on his own big goal.

“He just does it, right”, says Mollema’s former team-mate at Rabobank, Pieter Weening. “No complainin­g, but delivering value for money. That’s Bauke. He goes his own way, he knows what it takes to be a pro and he knows how to achieve success. He is a free spirit who saved his team TrekSegafr­edo in this Tour. I do know that there were also often other riders that were in the breaks. All of them were good riders, but in their cases the chances of winning were rather small. Vincenzo Nibali was there as well, a big name. We hardly saw him. Sorry, but it was Bauke who did it.”

Mollema won’t look the other way or blush. He performs to his ability and isn’t waiting for approval. He rides his races and enjoys it. Especially when “it goes pretty well”. Even at 34 years of age. Why would that change?

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 ??  ?? The young Mollema made his grand tour debut at the 2010 Giro d’Italia, where he came 12th in the general classifica­tion
The young Mollema made his grand tour debut at the 2010 Giro d’Italia, where he came 12th in the general classifica­tion
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 ??  ?? Mollema savours his biggest one-day win at Lombardia
Mollema savours his biggest one-day win at Lombardia

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