Morgan Hill, California - Hagens Berman Axeon’s Mikkel Bjerg battled a strong field to earn a top 10 finish on stage 4’s individual time trial at the Amgen Tour of California.
The 19-year-old Dane set off on the 34.7 kilometer course with high hopes, initially setting the fastest time of the day by finishing in 41'40"32. Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team), one of the last riders to roll down the starting ramp, set the fastest time by finishing in 40'47"33, eclipsing race leader Egan Bernal (Team Sky) to take the overall lead. Bjerg ended the day in an impressive 6th place.
“Today’s time trial went as planned, more than forty minutes of pure suffering,” said Bjerg. “Result-wise, I am disappointed. It was my first real shot at winning a World Tour race, but in the end I just didn’t have the legs. My performance wasn’t anything like my numbers in training, but I guess it shows how hard the Tour of California is and how good the World Tour is.”
Bjerg started off the season with a bang, winning Rabobank Dorpenomloop Rucphen, the first race of the season and the team’s first category 1.HC race in program history. Three days later, he broke his hand at Danilith Nokere Koerse and spent the following five weeks recovering from the injury. While disappointed with his TT performance on Wednesday, he wisely recognized the experience as a valuable learning lesson.
“But I am happy to show that my level of fitness is good after a hard spring with setbacks and crashes,” he said. “I am super motivated for the next stages but also for the rest of the season! This is only the beginning.”
Will Barta, runner-up at the 2017 U23 Time Trial National Championship, finished in 19th place. Sean Bennett, fresh off his podium appearance in Tuesday’s stage 3, was 29th. Barta’s top 20 finish moved him into 12th place in the GC, while Bennett moved up to 15th. With no new rider selected for the Breakaway From Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey, Ian Garrison will don the blue and white for another stage.
“I think we had a very good TT day,” said sport director Jeff Louder. “Bjerg had an impressive showing. It's amazing to see how well he bounced back after breaking two bones in his right hand and the missed racing that his recovery required. To place in the top ten in this field only a few weeks after returning shows his class. Barta and Bennett both performed well against the GC contenders and their move up the ranks shows that they are riding strong both uphill and against the clock.”
Thursday’s 176.5 km stage 5 from Stockton, California to Elk Grove begins at 11:20 AM PDT.
Photo: Davey Wilson