Jasper Philipsen caught the eye during his spells with the BMC development team and Hagens Berman Axeon before deciding to make the step up to WorldTour level with UAE Team Emirates at just 20 years of age this season. The Belgian’s professional career got off to a fine start at the Tour Down Under, where he claimed sprint victory on the penultimate stage.
Cyclingnews: How did you get into cycling?
Jasper Philipsen: No one in my family raced. I played soccer as a child but then I had a BMX accident and that gave me some injury problems that meant I couldn’t play soccer any more. I was still watching cycling on television and when I was roughly 12 I started to get the sport. At the time, I didn’t really know much about professional cycling but I started racing, joined a team, and started to have fun.
CN: You’re from Ham, near Mol, in Belgium. Mol has produced a number of professional riders but none bigger than Tom Boonen.
JP: That’s right. During Boonen’s final years we were in the same training group, along with Maarten Wynants from Jumbo-Visma. My first training ride with Boonen was probably a short coffee ride because we do a lot of them back home. We’d stop at a bar, have a coffee, and then have an easy ride home. He was always a hero for me because I’d watch him race in the spring Classics, and I really looked up to him and his achievements while the Classics were always special for me when I was growing up. He was a superstar when I was growing up, so it was strange to then find myself riding with him. I got used to it.
CN: How did you end up on Axel Merckx’s Hagens Berman Axeon team in 2018?
JP: Before that I was on the BMC development team but when that stopped I needed to find another team. When I was at BMC we were often racing against Axel’s team, and I remember looking at them and thinking how professional they were, and the riders always seemed to have a really good atmosphere. I ended up having a chat with Axel and it just went from there. I had already been to the US when I raced as a junior at the Worlds in Richmond but the next time was when the team had a training camp. We had some great races and they created the perfect step for riders of my age to come through the ranks. They gave us a really good schedule of races, and excellent support.
CN: In 2017 you won the under-23 Paris-Tours. Is that the biggest win of your career so far?
JP: I think my stage win at the Tour of Utah in 2018 was also good for me but I also earned a lot of experience in races like De Panne, where I was third behind Elia Viviani and Pascal Ackermann.
CN: How did you end up at UAE Team Emirates?
JP: They approached me through Joxean Matxin, who was a scout with Quick-Step. He follows a lot of young riders, goes to a lot of their races, and is a really good talent scout. He explained to me what the goals were at UAE Team Emirates – how they wanted to become more professional but also develop a lot of young riders. The team didn’t really have a big Classics group so there was an open spot for me and more chance of riding the bigger Classics. I had some contacts with some other teams, but they were just conversations.
CN: You’re still just 20. Why did you decide to turn professional so early?
JP: Honestly, I thought that I was ready for it. I did some races with the professionals last year and they went well for me. I don’t think I needed to be afraid of making the step up.
CN: What type of rider are you? You’ve had success in sprints, in Classics and you’ve had results in a number of different countries.
JP: I like the spring Classics in Belgium and as a U23 rider I performed there at my best. I’ve got a fast sprint, so those are my main abilities.
CN: What’s your race programme for the rest of the spring?
JP: After the Tour Down Under I’ll ride the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Then I’ll do the Volta ao Algarve and then the Classics, including Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo and Opening Weekend in Belgium. It’s going to be a hard schedule, but we’ll see how it goes. In those bigger races the leaders will be clear with Alexander Kristoff and Fernando Gaviria but I think I’ll have the chance to learn and gain some experience. If I can make it to the finals then we’ll see how it goes. It’s still really early, and hopefully my form will continue to grow. After that we’ll see. I won’t do a Grand Tour this year.
CN: What’s it like being on a WorldTour team?
JP: It’s a new experience but I like it. I did some WorldTour races last year with my previous team, Hagens Berman Axeon, like the Tour of California, the Tour of Utah and some races in Europe. The level at WorldTour is obviously higher and the speed is faster so I need to grow a bit more and carry on developing.
CN: You’re off to a flyer with a stage win and two top 10s. You must be excited about your start at this level?
JP: I didn’t expect much from this race but it’s been good for me morale. There’s no pressure. Having a WorldTour team leading me out is a special feeling. It’s hectic here but it’s nice to be sprinting against all these champions. It’s strange fighting for position with these riders but I’ll need to get used to it. Hopefully I can be as fast as they are.