From doubts to a first pro win: Mikkel Bjerg takes stage four and yellow jersey at Critérium du Dauphiné

Jonas Vingegaard most impressive of general classification contenders on hot day in the Loire

Mikkel Bjerg in the yellow jersey at the Critérium du Dauphiné
Mikkel Bjerg in the yellow jersey at the Critérium du Dauphiné
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When he arrived at the course for stage four's time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Mikkel Bjerg doubted himself, fearing the hilly profile of Wednesday's race was too hard for him.

Hours later, as he stood on the top step of a professional race for the first time in his career, pulling on the maillot jaune, the UAE Team Emirates rider no longer had any reason to do so, given the extent of his triumph.

The 24-year-old is a three-time under-23 world time trial champion, but that promise had not yet translated into success in his three and a half years as a WorldTour rider. There had been 10 podiums, but never a win until a hot day in the Loire.

The Dane averaged just under 50km/h - 49.804km/h in fact - to win stage four of the Dauphiné by 12 seconds ahead of Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).

Rémi Cavagna (Soudal Quick-Step) was the man in the hot seat before Bjerg, but despite looking significantly slower over the first sector, the UAE rider was able to turn it around over the second half of the course, seemingly accelerating to the finish.

"The first climb, I wanted to go hard but not above my limit, because there were some hard climbs coming later in the race," Bjerg explained post-stage. "I just stayed within my limits, did the descent as good as I could, didn’t take too many risks, and then the last 10km, David, the aerodynamicist of the team was really pushing me. The last 5km, I think I was on time, and then I could just power it home. I thought about my wife and powered it home."

His wife, incidentally, is Emma Norsgaard of Movistar, who has already won races in her career. "She had a long ride today, but then I think she made it back before I finished the race," Bjerg laughed.

The relief of a first victory, after so many years of trying, is still a great thing to see, and a visibly emotional Bjerg could barely contain himself. "I managed to live up to the expectations," was his conclusion.

"I’ve worked so hard for this first pro victory," he said. "I’m just so relieved that I‘ve finally got it now. I’ve had so many chances to do it, and I just didn’t live up to my expectation. This morning I doubted myself, I said the course was too hard. My manager texted me that I should go for it, I have nothing to lose, and I’m just so happy."

The Dane was one of three UAE Team Emirates riders in the top 10. While two were TT experts in Bjerg and Felix Großchartner, the other was Adam Yates, who finished 57 seconds behind his teammate. 

This TT prowess is promising for Tadej Pogačar ahead of the Tour de France, where a vaguely similar time trial awaits on stage 16. Vaguely similar, because there are 200m more of elevation over 10km less of distance.

"Everybody worked really hard behind this winter with TT equipment," Bjerg explained. "The team pushed the sponsors, and the sponsors really tried to deliver the fastes equipment possible. Now we have a fast bike and really fast clothes. Now it’s the riders’ time to shine."

While Pogačar will be impressed by how well the Colnago TT1 performed, and the PISSEI clothing acted in helping Bjerg's aerodynamic ability, he might be worried by Vingegaard's performance.

The Jumbo-Visma rider, the defending Tour champion, finished second, but the first of all the GC contenders. He put 29 seconds into Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), 45 seconds into Yates, both of whom impressed, 55 seconds into Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers), and a huge 2-10 into David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ).

"Of course I would hope to win the stage and take the yellow jersey, but I think Mikkel did a really good time trial today," Vingegaard said. "I also think I did a good time trial, but yeah it was really impressive by Mikkel. By now, it looks like he will take the jersey, but hopefully then I can take it in the next few days.

"It was the plan to go off hard. Maybe, I went a bit too hard. I tried to save a bit in the middle and then go again in the last part, and then when I had to go there was nothing to go with. So maybe I should have been going a little bit easier in the start, and then I would have a bit more at the end, maybe."

It won't matter too much to Vingegaard, whose eyes are on loftier goals - the overall, and the Tour de France - but for Bjerg, this is one big mission accomplished.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.