Mollema, others lose time on treacherous stage 17 time trial descent

Belkin rider loses time in the GC and nearly crashes close to the finish during the race against the clock

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CHORGES, France (VN) — Another day, another dangerous descent.

Though the Tour’s final time trial featured twin category two climbs, it was the roller coaster trips to the valley floor that proved decisive in the GC race.

Race leader Chris Froome (Sky), who on Wednesday had his own close encounter with the edge of a mountain road, had no such trouble Thursday. A bike swap at the top of the Cote de Réallon sent him rocketing down the mountainside and into a fourth stage win.

Several of Froome’s rivals were not so fortunate.

Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2R La Mondiale), sitting in ninth overall coming into the TT, crashed during a morning training ride and fractured his collarbone. He started the race anyway, but his hardman heroics were short lived. Peraud fell again — hard — on a sharp right turn near the bottom of the time trial’s second, higher velocity descent, apparently directly in front of his cheering family. His race is over.

Belkin’s Bauke Mollema nearly suffered the same fate, similarly overcooking a turn and drifting awkwardly into the barriers at the left side of the course. The Dutchman didn’t fall, and his bobble cost him only a few seconds, but it couldn’t have helped a rider who was already hemorrhaging time to his closest rival, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Mollema, who twice has narrowly held off Contador’s bids for the second step on the podium, lost nearly a minute to Contador on each of the day’s two climbs. He too switched to a time trial bike for the final descent, a move that may have stabilized his losses to the Spanish rider at only two minutes.

Still, Mollema now sits behind both Contador and his Saxo teammate Roman Kreuziger in fourth overall, 1:34 off the podium.

It was clear Mollema had done everything possible to hold on to his spot on the podium. It simply wasn’t enough. The Belkin leader, swarmed by press and photographers on the finish line, stood speechless, chest heaving, soaked with sweat, desperately gulping water and orange soda.

Finally composing himself some minutes later, he told reporters that his error just before the finish line had not been a major factor in his race.

“I just went too fast into the corner and my brakes were not working well on the final descent,” he said. “I lost confidence and I just went too late into the corner. I don’t think it’s a big problem, it was not even a crash. I didn’t crash, maybe it cost me less than five seconds, but it still was shit.”

With three hard days of racing left, he said, including two trips past the legendary Dutch corner on the hors categorie climb of l’Alpe d’Huez, he did not think the race for the podium had yet been settled.

Though Mollema was referring to his own chances of a podium place in Paris, in fact, his position in fourth in the GC may be in danger too. White jersey leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) now sits only 35 seconds behind him after posting a commendable sixth place effort Thursday.

Quintana also sits 19 points behind Froome in the mountain’s classification. With 75 points available on today’s two climbs of l’Alpe d’Huez alone and Froome likely riding only to defend his yellow jersey, the young Colombian will have every incentive to attack tomorrow and Mollema will have no choice but to try to follow if he hopes to protect fourth overall.

But Mollema told reporters he still aims for more. He will ride — and attack — for a spot on the podium as the Tour builds towards its climax in the Alps.

“For sure I hope to do a lot better than [Thursday on l’Alpe d’Huez],” he said. “I think it will be a great day for all the Dutch riders. I’m going to try the next days [to regain a podium spot]. It’s going to be really hard, but I still think there’s still some energy left for the next days.”

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