Development team Hagens Berman Axeon is making the most of its return to the Amgen Tour of California this year after a one-year absence, with sprinter Jasper Philipsen finishing sixth in the stage 1 bunch sprint and Sean Bennett claiming second on the stage 3 romp to Laguna Seca Raceway on Tuesday.
Now reigning under-23 time trial world champion Mikkel Bjerg is hoping to keep the momentum rolling with a top performance in Wednesday's 34.7km race against the clock in San Jose.
"I'm super-excited," Bjerg told Cyclingnews earlier this week. "It's been on my mind for the last couple of weeks now, just getting ready and getting my shape better and better every day. I feel pretty confident that I'll be able to put in a respectable performance."
For Bjerg, "respectable" doesn't come with a specific result attached. He told Cyclingnews he's more focused on continuing to improve.
"For me, it's mostly about the development," he said. "I don't want to be the under-23 world champion that never did anything after winning the title, so I've kind of just taken it step-by-step and tried to see if I could raise my level a bit for the season. With my hand injury, with the broken hand, it was a bit tough to come back, but I think I've found some really good shape and brought it here to California."
Bjerg broke his hand racing in Belgium at Nokere Koerse in mid-March and has only put in nine racing days since, but the 19-year-old, who still needs to wrap his hand before each race, said he's ready to take on his first WorldTour time trial, especially on a long course that is well-suited to his skills.
"I think the parcours suits me very well," he said. "It's a bit flatter than the world championships last year, and I've gained a couple of kilos, so I think that's perfectly fine. I saw some of the route in February. It's really close to the Specialized headquarters in Morgan Hill, so it's going to be really special to be riding a Specialized bike."
Aside from Wednesday's time trial, Bjerg said that over the rest of the week he plans to help his teammates achieve their own goals in California.
"I think we have some really good chances to prove ourselves, so hopefully we'll be able to get some good results," he said. "The team is wonderful. Everyone is doing everything they can to perform, and I think that's one of the reasons why we already have eight UCI victories this year, and even more that are non-UCI. So, yeah, I don't think we expected to already have eight wins this year, but the fact that we do means that we're super motivated to be here.
"I think the pressure is the lowest it's been all season because the race level here is so high. There are no expectations on us, so we can almost only deliver positive results here."
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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