Bauke Mollema is one of Holland’s most successful cyclists at this moment. The 27-year old cyclist of Belkin Pro Cycling Team finished sixth during in last year’s Tour de France, while for a long time he was headed for the podium. An interview with a man who was born and raised in the beautiful city of Groningen, and who quit his study of Economics to become a professional cyclist. It’s about the city where he grew up, the choices he made, and about his dreams: “I haven’t reached my full potential yet”.
The route between Zuidhorn and Groningen (12 km.) was the start of your cycling career. How did that happen?
“Every day I went to school in Groningen, and went by my bike in all weathers. The cycling became more and more fun; I started to track times, which kept getting better and better. At some point I realized that I might be talented, so I joined at the Northern Cyclist Association Groningen (NWVG) in 2004”.
After high school you first decided to study Roman Languages and Cultures before you chose to study Economics. A wrong choice?
“It turned out to be rather unsuccessful. Studying cultures wasn’t really my thing, I always favoured mathematics and economics”. Laughing: “Only the high percentage of women appealed to me. Economics seemed to fit me a lot better”.
Groningen is well known for its student life and nightlife. What’s your experience? Did you live a typical student life?
“I was able to learn fast, but I didn’t live the typical student life. Sometimes I feel I should have enjoyed my time as a student more. However, I was already a very fanatic cyclist and I dreamed of being a professional cyclist. Live a student life and practice sports on a top level isn’t a good combination. I loved the relaxed lifestyle of being a student though, to have the time to do whatever you want. I used to relax in the Noorderplantsoen a lot.
In 2007 you quit Economics, to fully focus on cycling. What made you choose cycling over studying, and was it difficult to choose?
“The choice wasn’t very difficult. I knew I would become a professional in 2008, so I knew my future was in cycling. It is always possible to start studying again. I do wanted to obtain my propaedeutic diploma before I became a professional cyclist, then I at least had something. I was told that my ECTS would be valid for 10 years, so if I had failed at being a professional cyclist I could have gone back to study Economics again. When you want to reach certain goals in life, I think you have to give it your all”.
Nowadays you no longer live in Groningen, but in another northern city called Leeuwarden. Do you often miss the Martini tower, the Poelestraat and the canals?
“Groningen and Leeuwarden are both beautiful cities, but Groningen is the city where I lived for a long time and where I went to school. I don’t visit Groningen that often anymore, maybe four or five times a year. That’s a pity, because I have a lot of good memories there. The many students and the lively city centre are memories I cherish. I always liked the centre of Groningen”.
Someday your professional cycling career will be over. Do you aspire an economic career afterwards?
“Probably, but I won’t be studying Economics again. I think I’ll be around 35 when my cycling career is over. I don’t see myself going back to school at that age. A position in commerce or some other business position is something I’d like. But that’s all very far away”.
Do you still have dreams in cycling?
“I would like to win a stage in the Tour de France, and be victorious in a classic race. I also want to reach the top three in one of the major European cycling stage races. That’s not going to be easy, but I have already been pretty close several times. I haven’t reached my full potential yet”.
Do you have any tips for talents who are about to choose between sports and studies, like you have?
“Be realistic. What’s the chance of actually having success in the sports you practice? And can you make a living out of it? In amateur cycling I witnessed a lot of guys sacrificing everything for a professional career, while it was clear they weren’t going to make it. But when you see chances, then give it your all. With just half the effort you will never make it to the top”.
By Beppie van der Sluis