Mikkel Bjerg (Denmark) cruised to a second successive victory in the under-23 men’s time trial at the World Championships in Innsbruck. Already winner of the event in Bergen a year ago, Bjerg was heavily favoured to triumph here and he lived up to that lofty billing by hurtling around the course at an average speed of 51.1kp/h.
The Dane came home 33 seconds quicker than silver medallist Brent Van Moer (Belgium), while his fellow countryman Mathias Norsgaard took the bronze medal, a further five seconds back.
As defending champion, Bjerg was the last man to roll down the start ramp to tackle the 27.7km course, and he already held a commanding lead at the lone time check with 10km remaining. He maintained his pace over the back end of the course to claim a second rainbow jersey in as many years in the event.
"It’s unbelievable," said Bjerg, who arrived in Austria over a week ago to fine-tune his build-up to the event. "My whole season has been about preparation for this race. I flew in here ten days ago and just did the course every day, just got it under my skin almost. I’m super happy to pull it off."
Edoardo Affini (Italy) placed fourth just ahead of Ethan Hayter (Great Britain), just 6 seconds shy of a podium place but some 45 seconds down on the flying Bjerg. Brandon McNulty (USA) was the penultimate rider down the start ramp by dint of his silver medal-winning ride in Bergen a year ago, but he was unable to replicate that performance on the Innsbruck parcours, ultimately placing 7th.
How it unfolded
The day’s first starter was Alexander Konyshev, son of Katusha directeur sportif Dimitri, who was riding for his native Italy, while an early pace-setter was Nickolas Zukowsky (Canada). Team Sky stagiaire Ethan Hayter soon dislodged him from the hotseat and the Briton would spend most of the afternoon occupying a medal position only to be bumped from the podium at the last.
Brent Van Moer (Belgium) was the first rider to average over 50kph on a course that began relatively gentle but then became even more rugged as it progressed, with the Absam climb proving the principal obstacle. Van Moer was 12 seconds quicker than Hayter, and a number of lofty names in the following waves of riders were unable to get close to the time of the Lotto Soudal stagiaire.
Among them was Lennard Kämna (Germany), the Sunweb professional who took a bronze medal in Richmond in this event three years ago. Kämna took a lengthy hiatus from racing earlier in the season but returned to action at the Deutschland Tour in August. This test perhaps came a little too soon for the German, who started strongly but faded in the latter stages and had to settle for 14th, more than a minute down on Bjerg.
There was disappointment, too, for Charlie Tanfield (Great Britain), who reported late for his start and could only manage 27th – “It’s shit but it wasn’t a deal breaker,” he said of his setback – and Eritrea’s Awet Habtom, who was forced to ride his regular road bike after his time trial set-up fell foul of the commissaires in the start house.
Mathias Norsgaard laid down an important marker when he clocked the best time at the intermediate check after 18km, but he was unable to maintain that intensity on the hillier segment that followed, and he hit the finish line 5 seconds down on Van Moer.
By then, it was clear that only the highly-touted names in the last tranche of starters could hope to trouble Van Moer’s time, and he watched with growing belief as men of the pedigree of Kamna and Callum Scotson (Australia) were unable to match his intermediate split or his time at the finish.
Bjerg, however, brought an end to the Belgian’s hopes of a rainbow jersey when he scorched through the 18km mark with a lead of 24 seconds over Norsgaard and 38 seconds over Van Moer. From the moment he rolled down the start ramp, the elegant Bjerg looked a world champion in waiting, and he seemed utterly untroubled by the rolling roads that led towards the finish, scarcely deviating from his aerodynamic tuck.
A year ago, Bjerg won by over a minute in Bergen, but while the margins were not quite as sizeable here, he was, once again, in a race of his own, and he reached the finish with 33 seconds to spare over Van Moer to claim a second successive gold medal. For good measure, Bjerg claimed silver behind McNulty in the junior time trial at the Doha Worlds in 2016.
"I don’t how much the gap was, but my feeling out there was exceptional and I’m super happy to regain my title," Bjerg said as he waited to mount the podium.
Still only 19 years of age, Bjerg is eligible to race at this level for three more years, though he has already demonstrated his ability at elite level by taking second in last year’s Chrono des Nations. He joined the Pro Continental Hagens Berman Axeon squad ahead of this season and will remain with Axel Merckx’s squad next year.
"It’s been really inspiring, especially at the BabyGiro in the mountains, Axel just told me to take it easy and the development will come when it’s ready," said Bjerg. "The dream next goal is to improve my road racing and get some wins next year."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mikkel Bjerg (Denmark)||0:32:31|
|2||Brent Van Moer (Belgium)||0:00:33|
|3||Mathias Norsgaard Jorgensen (Denmark)||0:00:38|
|4||Edoardo Affini (Italy)||0:00:44|
|5||Ethan Hayter (Great Britain)||0:00:46|
|6||Tobias S Foss (Norway)||0:00:51|
|7||Brandon Mcnulty (United States Of America)||0:00:53|
|8||Stefan De Bod (South Africa)||0:00:59|
|9||Matteo Sobrero (Italy)||0:01:01|
|10||Callum Scotson (Australia)||0:01:02|
|11||Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland)||0:01:02|
|12||Patrick Gamper (Austria)||0:01:04|
|13||Andreas Leknessund (Norway)||0:01:04|
|14||Lennard Kamna (Germany)||0:01:05|
|15||Max Kanter (Germany)||0:01:05|
|16||Pascal Eenkhoorn (Netherlands)||0:01:06|
|17||Mark Padun (Ukraine)||0:01:07|
|18||Alexys Brunel (France)||0:01:08|
|19||Jakub Otruba (Czech Republic)||0:01:12|
|20||Senne Leysen (Belgium)||0:01:19|
|21||Nickolas Zukowsky (Canada)||0:01:20|
|22||Filip Maciejuk (Poland)||0:01:22|
|23||Gage Hecht (United States Of America)||0:01:23|
|24||Julius Van Den Berg (Netherlands)||0:01:24|
|25||Michael O'loughlin (Ireland)||0:01:28|
|26||Tom Wirtgen (Luxembourg)||0:01:31|
|27||Charlie Tanfield (Great Britain)||0:01:32|
|28||Ivo Oliveira (Portugal)||0:01:35|
|29||Jaime Castrillo Zapater (Spain)||0:01:38|
|30||Joao Almeida (Portugal)||0:01:40|
|31||Johan Price-Pejtersen (Denmark)||0:01:41|
|32||Nikolai Cherkasov (Russian Federation)||0:01:43|
|33||Barnabas Peak (Hungary)||0:01:45|
|34||Markus Wildauer (Austria)||0:01:45|
|35||Thibault Guernalec (France)||0:01:49|
|36||Alexander Konychev (Italy)||0:01:53|
|37||Kent Main (South Africa)||0:02:00|
|38||Conn Mcdunphy (Ireland)||0:02:06|
|39||Marc Hirschi (Switzerland)||0:02:07|
|40||Adam Roberge (Canada)||0:02:09|
|41||Jaka Primozic (Slovenia)||0:02:33|
|42||Norman Vahtra (Estonia)||0:02:37|
|43||Diego Agustin Ferreyra Geldrez (Chile)||0:02:50|
|44||Sergio Tu (Chinese Taipei)||0:02:54|
|45||Veljko Stojnic (Serbia)||0:02:56|
|46||Andreas Miltiadis (Cyprus)||0:02:57|