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Back 2019-03-26

Axeon’s Mikkel Bjerg in Search of the Ultimate Hour

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Mikkel Bjerg is in search of 796 meters… or more. That’s the distance the 20-year-old Hagens Berman Axeon rider needs to match, or break, the modern UCI World Hour Record of 54.526 km set by his idol Bradley Wiggins. Bjerg of Denmark loves time trialing and training on his time trial bike. Only 20, he’s already made two hour-record attempts, 52.311 at age 18 and 53.730 at age 19, making him the second fastest man in the UCI’s modern hour record era. Bjerg also has two-time U23 World Time Trial championships.

All photos © Davey Wilson

We caught up with Bjerg at Hagens Berman Axeon training camp to ask him that and to talk with him about the hour record and his career. He compares an hour-record attempt to doing laundry. To find out what he means, read on:

The World Cyclocross Championships were in Denmark this year. Did you race cyclocross at all growing up?

No. I’ve done one race. There were a lot of stairs, and I was really bad. I was really, really terrible at it. Also my bike was not really a ‘cross bike. It was more of a gravel bike. It had rim brakes on it. It was really worn down because I did a lot of road training on it during the winter. Also my experience with cyclocross was not fair because my bike was so bad!

Last year, you set the Danish hour record last year by riding 52.311km at the age of 18. How many hour record attempts have you done?

Two.

When was the first attempt?

2017 right after I won the U23 world time trial championships (he covered 52.311km). I pretty much just took apart my bike and threw some disc wheels on it and turned it into a track bike basically. Last year I got a bit more into it. I got a more track specific frame. I was really trying to see how far I can push it and I set a new Danish record…. The goal this year is to break the UCI hour record.

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When are you planning to make the next attempt?

I know I’m going to going to do a practice attempt in June, and then from there I will decide what’s the plan.

Where do you think you’ll do this?

I think it’s probably going to be in Switzerland or Denmark right now. I don’t think altitude would benefit me right now because I would lose too much power in altitude. I’ve never really done any altitude training. I’ll have to find out how much power I lose in altitude.

What drew you to the hour record?

It’s because Bradley Wiggins is a big idol of mine, so I basically just want to be like him. That’s what idols are for, you know. I thought that was the closest thing I could get to have a good result in a pro race, if you could call it that. I guess it was my transition from being an Under 23 World Champion to be accepted as a known pro in the pro peloton.

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People who attempt the hour record are always very good time trialists. Is it very different from time trialing?

It’s pretty similar, actually. It’s like doing a one hour time trial. You just need to stick on that pace schedule that you set with you coach or you set by yourself. If you just go a bit too hard, you lose too much time in the end. It’s about finding a pace you sustain for one hour and really believe that. The first 50 minutes you have to follow your schedule. And then, if you have a good schedule, the last 10 minutes you can maybe increase the speed a little bit.

Where you able to do that in your last attempt?

I dropped a little bit with like 7 minutes to go, but the last 3 minutes I was able to push it a bit harder than I did the previous laps. I think my last hour-record attempt the pacing was spot-on, and I feel like I’ve learned something from my first attempt. I tried to put a bigger gear on my bike so my cadence is a bit lower than my first attempt. The guys who just say, OK, I’m going to try to do the hour record, and then they do it one time. They have not really any experience with the hour record because all the guys that’d I’ve heard of who have tried to beat the hour record, has done a full hour before. Trying to do an hour record before will probably benefit me in the end.

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In a time trial, you may occasionally stand up or come out of the extensions for corners. Is it difficult in an hour-record attempt to hold that single position the entire time?

It is difficult for sure, and not everyone can do it. But I spend a lot of time on my TT bike during the season. That obviously makes it a bit more comfortable, that I’ve been sitting in that position for maybe 300 hours per year or something for the last couple of years. It’s also about finding a position that you know you can sustain for one hour. Every time you go out of the base bar (extensions) and try to stand up a little bit, then you lose speed. And when you have to gain speed from maybe 50 km an hour to go back to that record pace, which is like 55km an hour, it takes a lot of power. If you do that too many times, you’ll just lose in the end. It’s about really having a measured performance just trying to sustain it for one hour.

How would you describe the level of discomfort or pain during the attempt?

Maybe I’m just dumber than everybody else. It’s hard. The physical part of it is really hard. The mental part is not that hard for me…. I’ve done a lot of TT training, and I’m really good at trying to set myself up for a big event, especially if I can see ahead in time: OK, I have the World Championships; I have the European Championships; I have a world hour record attempt. I can basically prepare myself for three months, four months, six months leading up to that race. Then when I do that race, the first 30 minutes my mental state carries me. Then in the last 30 minutes you just have to put the hammer down go as fast as possible.

Do you do any mental training outside of what you do on the bike?

Just being an adult and being in a relationship is probably training enough. It’s always that you have you do your laundry, you have to do certain things. Just doing regular things in your everyday life is also making you a bit stronger mentally. Even though you don’t want to do your laundry, you have to do your laundry. Otherwise you don’t have any clean clothes. It’s like that with the hour record as well. You don’t want to do the last 10 minutes, but if you want to be remembered when you’re gone one day, then you also have to push for those last 10 minutes.

Do you do motor pacing in relation to building up your fitness or time trials or the hour record?

I have not actually done much motor pacing. I don’t really see the point of doing it, really. If you want to go in a faster cadence, you can just change your gear. For me that hasn’t really been a go-to thing. But for some riders, for sure, it will maybe get them that race feeling or that race speed. But going on your TT bike doing TT efforts, power wise, you will probably have a pretty fast speed anyway. It’s also about getting comfortable in that gear ratio and that cadence with a certain amount of power. So, a lot of race-pace efforts!

In an hour-record attempt, you cannot use a head unit for pacing. Do you rely on a coach who yells splits?

Yes. I’ve been working the same coach for five or six years now. He really knows when I’m suffering. I feel like that’s a lot of comfort for me.

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What are your other primary goals this season?

This year is a bit special for me. I obviously have the world championships really late in the season, so everything leading up to that world championships is more or less preparation, especially now because I will do the hour record after the Under-23 World Championships in Yorkshire. This year is for me a year when I can really prepare myself for those two big main events.

Then obviously we have big time trials during the year, especially the national TT championships. I’ve been third and second now, and I don’t want to be second, third or even worse again. That’s a big goal for me, to be a national champion. But also being European Champion for Under 23 because I lost by 1 second in 2017, and I feel like if I could win that European Championship, that would be massive. And then just overall improve in the road races and hopefully have a win or two.

How do you like riding in the United States?

I’ve only done the Tour of California, actually. That was pretty special, actually, because of all the wide roads. It felt like the race was more calm…. When it’s uphill it’s uphill for sure; most of the guys get dropped. But in the big bunch on the big flat roads, you’re almost getting sucked in the peloton. It’s a bit different from European racing. You always have to watch out for the next corner and the next really narrow section.

For the hour record, you rode double Zipp discs. What is your favorite wheel for the road?

I really like the 454 NSWs. It’s like 404s but a bit more windproof for stability.

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