Hagens Berman Axeon’s first race of the season, Dorpenomloop Rucphen, a 188km (116.8mi), UCI category 1.2 race in the Netherlands, proved to be one for the team’s history books. After racing for only 38km, world champion and first-year rider Mikkel Bjerg went off the front. Bjerg worked with two different riders for the remaining 150km, held off the peloton until a few hundred meters from the finish line, then made his move past Rune Herregodts (Lotto Soudal U23) for the victory.
Lined up for the team was a near all European squad composed of newcomers Mikkel Bjerg, Jasper Philipsen, Maikel Zijlaard, and Joao Almeida, brothers Rui and Ivo Oliveira, and second year rider Michael Rice.
“The plan was to be active in the race and race attentively without wasting too much energy, since the race is suited for a sprint or being decided deep into the final,” said sport director Koos Moerenhout. “In the case of a sprint, we would go for Jasper Philipsen and try to give him an ideal leadout.”
The plan changed when Bjerg saw an opening and wanted to test his legs and the field. David Boucher (Tartaletto-Isorex) quickly covered the move. The two were almost caught when Rune Herregodts (Lotto Soudal U23) joined Bjerg and Boucher returned to the peloton.
With tongue out and the peloton closing in, Bjerg fought for a chance to take the victory. “The last 2km was really hard because the peloton almost caught us and I was the only one willing to pull, so i just went full gas and hoped for the best in the sprint,” said an ecstatic Bjerg. “The only thing that went through my mind was ‘don’t get caught’ and then the Lotto guy [Herregodts] launched his sprint, but I felt like I had something left in the tank!”
Behind Bjerg, the team was able to control the race and defend Bjerg’s breakaway from the peloton where it set up Philipsen for the sprint. Philipsen finished 5th on the day. The team had four riders in the top 20 (Rui Oliveira finished 18th and Maikel Zijlaard 20th). Joao Almeida placed 39th, Michael Rice 40th, and Ivo Oliveira 58th.
“The team rode attentively and worked well as a team, which is a big compliment considering it’s our first race together,” remarked Moerenhout.
The next race is Danilith Nokere Koerse, a 191km (118.6mi) UCI category 1.HC race held in Flanders, Belgium on March 14, 2018.