UAE Team Emirates' Mikkel Bjerg rode to an impressive third place on Sunday's mountainous ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia from San Salvo to Roccaraso, with its summit finish on the Aremogna. The 21-year-old Danish time trial specialist was left "proud" and "super happy" with his performance, having made the most of his opportunity to try for the stage victory.
Strangely, it had already been a Giro that seemed to be suiting the TT specialists, with the opening stage against the clock plus a road stage being won by Ineos Grenadiers' Filippo Ganna and a road-stage win also going to former Hour Record holder Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation) on stage 8.
Danish TT specialist Bjerg – a three-time under-23 time trial world champion who stepped up to WorldTour level with UAE Team Emirates this season – admitted that the original plan was to get in the front group so that he'd be there to try to help 22-year-old teammate Brandon McNulty, who also joined the UAE squad this year, on the final climb.
However, Bjerg was only a late addition to the day's main breakaway, and needed to use his time-trial skills to close a gap of several minutes to the break of seven riders, even suffering a puncture during his ultimately successful pursuit.
Later, only eventual stage winner Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) was able to follow an attack by Ineos Grenadiers' Jonathan Castroviejo with six kilometres to go, but Bjerg held on to finish less than a minute down in third place.
"I'm really proud of my performance today," he said on his team's website. "The plan was to get ahead of the peloton so that Brandon could jump across in the final.
"I managed to bridge across to the breakaway, and in the end we had a decent gap and I got the green light from Matxin [team manager Joxean Fernández] in the team car to go for a result. I'm super happy I got the chance today and I think I made the most of it," said Bjerg.
He also finished third on the Giro's opening time trial stage in Palermo – behind Ganna and current overall race leader João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – and will also target the race's two remaining tests against the clock: stage 14 over 34km from Conegliano to Valdobbiadene and the 15.7km final stage from Cernusco sul Naviglio to Milan.
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