If the Netflix character portrayal is to be believed, Jasper Philipsen is a disaster. He’s prone to mishaps, known for forgetting his shoes, and synonymous with clumsiness. He claims the producers of the docuseries “created a character a little bit” and that “maybe it was a bit strange that I was created like that”.
There may be elements of truth in this characterisation, but the more accurate representation is that Jasper Philipsen, the 25-year-old Belgian with a charming charisma and good looks, is on the verge of becoming a genuine superstar. A status not borne out of his Netflix fame but derived from his ascent into the fastest cyclist on the planet and being on the cusp of becoming the first truly dominant sprinter for half-a-decade.
At last year’s Tour de France, he won the final two bunch sprints, including the Holy Grail on the Champs-Élysées. Twelve months later, on stage three of the 2023 Tour de France, as the race turned on to home roads following a three-day stint in Spain’s raucous Basque Country, Philipsen - aided by a terrific leadout from Mathieu van der Poel - negated an undulating finishing parcours and made it a hat-trick of sprint successes in the biggest race of all.
Not since Marcel Kittel back in 2017 has the Tour witnessed a sprinter so far ahead of everyone else (a nod towards Mark Cavendish’s four wins at the 2021 edition is justified, but that was an anomaly in his recent record), and though time will tell if Philipsen is to rack up a handful of wins this July, the signals are positive. Kittel himself had talked Philipsen up before the race, declaring that he was “absolutely convinced that Philipsen would win multiple stages”.
After winning in Bayonne, Philipsen was asked by Rouleur if he was the best sprinter in the world. “I think we have to decide after Paris,” he diplomatically answered, swerving the question. “There are a lot of sprints coming,” he added, pointing to the potential seven remaining, “but I think we have to say we have a really good leadout which puts a lot of pressure on my shoulders”. Pressure that doesn’t overwhelm him, not even as a Flanderian representing cycling’s heartland and most expectant supporters.
He possesses the modern sprinter’s prerequisite array of skills. Most of today’s Grand Tour sprints are no longer the pan-flat affairs of yesteryear - there’s often several thousand metres of climbing packed in from start to finish. The final 25km of stage three were constantly undulating, short percentages of double digit gradients in places, and it was too much for some: DSM’s Sam Welsford, Intermarché-Circus-Wanty’s Biniam Girmay and Uno-X’s Alexander Kristoff all out of the equation, beaten by the spikes. If this route was ridden in the final week, this author is certain that it wouldn’t have concluded in a mass sprint.
Yet Philipsen is capable of getting over the bumps, is proficient in reserving his energy, and clinical when required. Netflix painted him as a down-on-his-luck underachiever, albeit an endearing one, but by the end of the eight-part series he was cast as reborn, a rider who had turned around his fortunes, and the only sprinter to leave last year’s Tour with two stage victories. That he’s already up and running in this edition is a mark of his burgeoning superiority.
There is little doubt now that he is the best sprinter in the men’s peloton - the wider question is if he is going to go on to become this generation’s serial winner, à la Cavendish, Kittel and Cipollini in their heydays.
Whatever the future holds, it’s no longer Jasper Disaster, but instead Jasper the Winner.