What a difference a year makes: last July in Carcassonne, Jasper Philipsen finished third in a Tour de France stage finish behind Mark Cavendish as the British sprinter claimed his 34th victory in the race. But this summer it was the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider who raised his arms on the Boulevard de Varsovie.
Knowing the finishing straight and its two right-hand bends from 2021 made the difference, Philipsen said later, and after going through the final corner in around sixth place, he then timed his final acceleration behind stage 13 winner Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) to perfection.
While the omnipresent Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) veered right past Pedersen, Philipsen veered left, beating his fellow Belgian by a decisive distance of over a wheel's width.
The 24-year-old has hit the bar no fewer than three times already in this year's race with a fifth, a third and a second. So Philipsen confirmed that taking a Tour de France stage win in Carcassonne at last in an edition with so few sprint opportunities constituted "a pretty big relief." That was especially the case after six near-misses in last year's Tour de France sprints.
The stage was a change from ten straight days of hilly and mountain stages with a dearth of opportunities for the flatlanders.
"We [sprinters] had to wait a long time in this Tour," Philipsen added. "For a lot of the Alps there were a lot of stages without any results for the team, but everybody took all the chances we had, and on Friday [stage 13] we worked really hard for the sprint.
"Today we worked really hard again and finally, now, it has paid off and I think that shows the strength of the team, and that shows that everybody's dedicated to go for the win," he concluded.
On the first week stage to Calais, Philipsen thought he had won and even raised his arms in victory, only to find lone breakaway Van Aert was actually ahead.
"It was a good chance, but Wout decided differently, and there I have an even more beautiful picture [of the finish]," Philipsen joked.
As for how he handled the lack of opportunities and so many near-misses, he said his motivation stayed high by believing that "new chances would come."
"If there were no sprints left, then it would be mentally much tougher in all the mountains, but you have to keep on fighting for the chances like this. It's not always easy to look forward such a long time, but today's showed that it is worth it, and there are still hopefully two more opportunities," on stage 19 and stage 21, "left to come."
Philipsen confirmed that knowing the final kilometre and its technical series of corners had been "pretty crucial," but he also added that "Mark Cavendish not being here also played a role." Yet his resilience and ability to get stronger the deeper into the race he gets compared to other sprinters surely also helped, just as it did when he took his first ever Grand Tour stage win in the Vuelta a España 2020, at the end of a marathon 230-kilometre day of racing through the rain and freezing cold.
"I try to stay easy in the stages where we have no chances and it was maybe pretty tough in the last week because we have to ride really easy in order to get through to the stages like today," he said, when asked to explain how he recovered so well in third weeks.
"But tonight we'll have a small celebration with the team. The pressure is off, and all the staff has been working really hard to keep us in the best shape possible. It wasn't easy with Mathieu [van der Poel, teammate - Ed.] going out of the Tour in the Alps, maybe he wasn't in the condition we were hoping for or expected.
"So it's not been an easy Tour for us, but today showed the strength of the squad and that we kept on believing."
Already victorious in three bunch sprints in the Vuelta a España, for Philipsen finally securing his first Tour at 24 represented a breakthrough and a step up, he said.
"This is surely the biggest victory in my career," he argued. "The Tour de France is the nicest race to win in a sprint. So I'm super happy to win at the highest level, I will enjoy it and look forward to what's to come. But for sure I will remember this day for a long time."
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