Giro d'Italia

Mikkel Bjerg learning the hard way in Giro d’Italia debut

Triple U23 world time trial champion looking to hone his craft against the clock in neo-pro year before future run at classics.

PIANCAVALLO, Italy (VN) – Danish neo-pro Mikkel Bjerg has been thrown in at the deep end at his debut grand tour.

This year’s Giro d’Italia is 21-year-old Bjerg’s first three-week race, and it has been far from straightforward. The young rouleur has been pulled between his own time trial aspirations, supporting UAE Team Emirates’ GC bid with Brandon McNulty, and battling the attritional weather and threat of coronavirus.

“It’s been hard,” Bjerg admitted ruefully ahead of Sunday’s 15th stage to Pianvacallo. “For the first 10 or so days I felt really good, but now I’m feeling more tired. I was hoping for more at the time trial yesterday and definitely wasn’t my best. But I am still learning. This is just my first attempt.”

Bjerg blazed his way into his debut Giro d’Italia with a third-place at the race’s opening time trial in Palermo, just 22 seconds behind an unstoppable ride by Filippo Ganna. Eight days later, the burly Dane stepped onto the bottom step of the podium again, finishing third behind breakaway companions Ruben Guerreiro and Jonathan Castroviejo had battled for the stage win in a final duel on the climb to Roccaraso.

As a triple U23 world time trial champion, the race against the clock is where Bjerg’s heart lies, and the disappointment was clear on his face when he spoke of his 14th place in the prosecco time trial of stage 14. However, at nearly 80kg and 1.9 meters tall, his options are open for the future.

“For my size, classics are the obvious choice,” Bjerg told VeloNews. “For me, when I’m not performing the way I want to, and it feels such a let-down, then I can really tell that is where I want to be my best. And so I think I’ll try to focus on winning the TTs first, and once I’ve won some TTs maybe I’ll change my focus … I feel like I need to figure out and master this art [time trialing], and then maybe move on.”

Bjerg honed his racing and time trial chops through two years with key American development team Hagens Berman Axeon, where he rode alongside the Giro’s race leader João Almeida.

“He’s really showing himself here,” Bjerg said of his Portuguese former teammate. “He always had a really good level at Axeon, but he’s really taken a further step up now. All us young guys are really feeding off each other here. But not just Joao, but all the others like Brandon on my team. It gives confidence for what you can do for yourself.”

Bjerg ground his way through a tough multi-mountain stage to Piancavallo on Sunday to finish over 40 minutes down on stage winner and another former Hagens Berman Axeon rider, Tao Geoghegan Hart. Bjerg will be hoping that having the Brit on the stage victor’s podium and seeing Almeida continue to lead the GC fuels his mojo for some time trial redemption in Milano next Sunday.