In the first week of this year’s Tour de France, the versatile Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) showed that he had added yet another skill to his already jam-packed toolbox as he led out Jasper Philipsen to a trio of sprint stage wins. On Wednesday, however, with Van der Poel apparently not feeling at his best and uninvolved in the finale, Philipsen made a statement with a dominant sprint win, proving that he was more than capable of crushing the competition even without his teammate clearing the way.
Alpecin did a solid job of pushing the pace into the flamme rouge on stage 11, but Philipsen’s teammates peeled off after that, and other sprint teams came to the fore. Adorned in the green(ish) jersey that is looking all but certain to stay on his shoulders through to Paris, Philipsen found himself in some traffic next to Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), a few too many riders back with around 500 meters to go.
On his own for the finishing straight, Philipsen went into freelancing mode to improve his position.
As Jayco-AlUla and Uno-X took the more traditional route with lead-out men at the front, Philipsen briefly stuck his nose into the wind to rapidly move up on the left side of the road before slotting onto Groenewegen’s wheel. With 200 meters to go, Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) started sprinting before Groenewegen surged ahead almost immediately, but the Dutchman had no answer when Philipsen launched on his right and powered to a clear win.
“I can also win without him, but of course, he makes it more easy,” Philipsen said of Van der Poel afterward. “I had to find my wheel a little bit, and I had to find the space. It’s dangerous for crashing, but I’m happy to find a good wheel of Groenewegen in the end. He opened up early, and I could go over.”
There is little doubt that Van der Poel has been a huge asset to Philipsen thus far at this Tour, albeit not without some controversy as the multiple Monument winner was relegated for getting too physical with Girmay on stage 4. Philipsen, too, earned Girmay’s ire on stage 7 when the pair rubbed shoulders in the finale, though the jury did not deem the contact worthy of relegation.
In any case, Wednesday’s stage stood out as a display of sheer power – and racing savvy – for Philipsen, who also managed to make it to the line without having egregiously bumped anyone or changed lines to the point of drawing a complaint this time. In other words, his hat trick of stage wins was already quite a show of force at this Tour, but Philipsen’s fourth win made a statement in a different way: he can do it without Van der Poel, too, and he can even do it relatively cleanly, without bringing his brand of Disaster to others.
That’s ominous news for the rest of the peloton at this Tour, where Philipsen now has a huge lead in the points classification and has already mopped up four of the five sprint opportunities, with the only (slight) blemish being the uphill finish on stage 8 at Limoges, where Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) managed to overhaul him. No rider has even finished second against him more than once.
As if Philipsen needed a confidence booster, he has now shown that he is head and shoulders above the competition at this race with or without his star leadout man. Seeing as he may well have Van der Poel back in leadout mode in the sprint stages to come, it will be all the more intimidating to take Alpecin-Deceuninck on in the bunch kicks at this Tour.
Rival teams may have to get creative if they’re to have a hope of challenging Philipsen (and Co.) on the sprint stages, but at least they’ll get a few days to plan before the next opportunity arises. With plenty of hills and mountains on the horizon, it will be at least a week before the sprinters get another chance, possibly on stage 18 to Bourg-en-Bresse.
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