Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema: ‘I want to race five more years’
Could the Dutch star become the peloton's next Alejandro Valverde? At 35, he hopes to race until he turns 40.
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Could Bauke Mollema become the peloton’s next Alejandro Valverde?
Perhaps so. The Dutch all-rounder turned 35 last month and shows no sign of slowing down.
Valverde vows to retire at the end of 2022, which would put him at 42. Mollema, who enters the final season of his current contract at Trek-Segafredo, sees himself racing until his 40th birthday.
“I don’t think  will be my last year,” Mollema told journalists in a media call. “We will meet with the team to extend the contract. Right now, I have the idea that I can ride at this level for another five years.”
Mollema joined the WorldTour in 2008, and rides into his 15th season as a pro in 2022. He rode seven years with the Rabobank (now Jumbo-Visma) franchise and joined Trek-Segafredo in 2015.
After popping for a handful of top-10s in grand tours, including third in the 2011 Vuelta a España, Mollema is changing his focus.
Though he can still perform at a high level across three weeks, Mollema is shifting into a stage-hunter and one-day classics rider profile.
That follows a familiar trajectory of many veteran riders, who often slip into helper or mentor roles later in their careers.
Mollema, like Valverde, keeps posting good numbers and equally impressive results.
In 2021, he won his second career stage at the Tour de France, just missed a medal in the Olympic Games road race with a fourth-place finish, along with a pair of wins early in the season.
“I think I had a pretty good season, in general, I am quite satisfied with the results I had,” Mollema said.
Mollema admits he’s not likely to take down the likes of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) or Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers).
Instead, he’s turning his focus to races where his diesel-like motor and racing acumen can deliver dividends.
“In one-day races I’ve been super competitive in the last few years,” Mollema said. “I maybe feel even better there than I did five years ago. That’s also something I’d like to focus on more and more next year and the years after.”
Sounds familiar, huh?
Bauke Mollema: ‘There are no easy races anymore’
Despite all the focus and obsession on younger riders performing at race-busting levels, on the other end of the spectrum, riders’ careers are lasting longer than ever.
That’s in part to fewer racing days, better nutrition and recovery, and an increasing emphasis on the overall health and well-being of athletes.
In 2021, a handful of riders aged 39 finally put an end to their respective careers, including Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma), Marcel Sieberg (Bahrain Victorious), and Koen de Kort (Trek-Segafredo).
Recently, Jens Voigt, Svein Tuft, Mat Hayman, and Matteo Tosatto all raced until at least their 40th birthdays in further testament that if riders can avoid major injuries and keep up the motivation, pros can race well into two decades in the elite peloton.
While there are about 100 riders aged 23 or younger in the elite men’s peloton, there are many riders remaining competitive well past their mid-30s and into their late 30s.
Going into 2022, there are several riders heading into their 30s still playing a key role in the peloton, including Greg Van Avermaet, 37 in May, Vincenzo Nibali, who turned 37 in November, Heinrich Haussler, 38 in February, and Luís León Sánchez, who also turned 38 in November.
What changes does Mollema see in the peloton?
The Dutch star said it’s been a steady drumbeat of improvements during the past decade.
“Cycling has already been slowly changing over the last 10 years,” Mollema said. “The speed has maybe slowly gone up, and aerodynamics are so much more important now. The bikes and clothing and everything has improved a lot. It’s not just those riders who made a big difference.
“The level, in general, has gone up,” he said. “More teams are working more professionally now, and more guys are able to produce really good values and do good results. There are more guys able to finish in the top-10 of any race. There are no easy races anymore nowadays.”
Mollema vows to keep on trucking. Valverde’s rank as the oldest pro in the WorldTour, however, remains safe for 2022.