Mark Cavendish’s abandonment of the Tour de France during stage eight was met with widespread sadness. There would be no 35th stage win and the Astana Qazaqstan rider will retire at the end of this season, never having broken the record he currently holds jointly with the great Eddy Merckx. For a short while, it was all everyone was talking about. But, like always, the Tour de France moves on. It waits for no one. As brutal as it may be, there is already a new, dominant sprinter making headlines in the form of Jasper Philipsen. Is he next in line to break records?
While it is perhaps too early to ascertain whether Philipsen will ever reach the astronomical success of a sprinter like Cavendish in his career, this year’s Tour has so far shown us that the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider is a cut above the rest. Normally, after sprint stages, critiques and analysis can be made about how riders could have done things differently to secure the victory. There are discussions about when they hesitated, or picked the wrong line to follow, or lost the wheel of their teammates. In today’s stage, however, there was little to be said. Philipsen was simply faster than everyone else, and not just by a small margin. He even had time to glance over his shoulder and see the gap he had to his rivals as he approached the finish line. We haven’t seen a sprinter like him in a while.
Image: James Startt
His most recent victory is perhaps the most impressive of all. Critics of Philipsen have commented that the Belgian rider has had an “arm chair” ride to the finish during his previous stage wins, only having to follow the wheel of all-rounder extraordinaire, Mathieu van der Poel. On the crash-filled sprint day to Nogaro, for example, Philipsen was brought to the front in the final 500 metres thanks to an eye-watering turn of speed from his Dutch teammate. Even Philipsen himself commented after the stage that he couldn’t have secured the win without MVDP’s assistance. Today, however, with Van der Poel feeling under the weather, Philipsen did it all alone.
He did so by surfing the wheels of other teams with some heart-stopping bravery in the final kilometre. From Wout van Aert’s back wheel to Alexander Kristoff’s to Dylan Groenewegen’s, Philipsen ensured that he did not put his nose in the wind for a second longer than necessary. Barges and touches of shoulders were everywhere, but Philipsen showed not an ounce of fear. Teammates or no teammates, the 25-year-old gave a masterclass in how to win a bunch sprint. Can we call him Jasper the Master now? “Maybe, yes,” Philipsen said after the stage.
What comes with being a master of sprinting on the biggest stage is not just the podium presentations and feeling of glory when the opportunity comes to raise your hands in the air, though. Philipsen has also spoken honestly about the negativity he has received during this Tour so far, revealing in his column for Het Belang van Limburg that he could scroll through hate messages on Instagram for hours, many of them from fans of the likes of Biniam Girmay and Mark Cavendish who Philipsen has been accused of riding dangerously against during this year’s race.
Image: ASO/Pauline Ballet
But Philpsen, like all great sprinters seemingly must do, also has shown his resilience. He explained that he was not fazed by negativity and has answered such comments in the way he knows how: by remaining the best sprinter in the race, fair and square. Philipsen can be likened to Cavendish in this way, too. Both are physical riders who are not afraid to push the limits in sprints and both respond to criticism with confidence and self-assuredness. These are key traits of winners.
In fact, in bike racing generally, but especially in sprinting, mental strength is as important as physical. It’s about having belief in your convictions, about trusting yourself to reach for your chances and about remaining strong in the face of naysayers. Cavendish did it, and it looks like Philpsen might be able to as well. 34 stage victories is a very long way off for the 25-year-old Belgian, but Jasper Philipsen is starting to make a habit of winning.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix