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He had to brake once, then again as he weaved through the sprint in the final 200 meters, but with a powerful burst of speed Jasper Philipsen sped to his first Tour de France stage win on a scorching hot day in Carcassonne.
The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider came from behind as Trek-Segafredo’s Mads Pedersen opened the sprint, then threw himself on the inside of the final corner to get past green jersey holder Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and ousting him as Pedersen slacked off third.
After finishing eight times in the top three in the Tour de France sprints but never claiming a win to date, Philipsen was understandably emotional in the post-race interview.
“It makes it super incredible,” he said of his previous failures. “I know what it’s like to lose in the Tour de France. I’ve come close many times. It’s incredible that it happened today. I can’t believe it.
“I felt Wout was close but I also knew the finish line from last year. We were surrounded just before the last corner and I knew it wouldn’t be long after the last corner. I knew I had to make up some positions. It was good that I was able to overtake Mads.
Alpecin-Deceuninck wasn’t as lucky as 2021 when Mathieu van der Poel won a stage and led the race for the first week. Van der Poel struggled after a tough Giro d’Italia and retired on stage 11.
“It was a massive search for this win,” said Philipsen. “We worked really hard for it. I’m super proud that we can finally finish it after a tough tour. We had to wait with the team until stage 15, but everyone still believed it was possible. I’m super happy.
“I knew I had good legs but we just had to wait for the right moment and opportunity and today was the day.”
It was an imperfect day for Jumbo-Visma, however, as race leader Jonas Vingegaard lost Primož Roglič before the start and another strong climber, Steven Kruijswijk, fell mid-stage just days before the race in the Pyrenees.
Vingegaard also crashed but came back to maintain his 2:22 lead over Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), while Geraint Thomas remains in third place at 2:43.
How it evolved
With temperatures already reaching 32C at the start in Rodez, the peloton knew they were in for another hot day for the 202.5km ride south to Carcassonne via the sunflower and wheat fields of the Occitanie region of south-west France.
The riders wore ice vests, ice packs on their necks and made sure to stay hydrated before and during the race. Feeding was allowed from the start and the time limit was extended, but nobody asked for the stage to be shortened. C’est le Tour and the show must go on.
In fact, the attacks came as soon as the flag fell and again Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) was there despite the team deciding to pull Primož Roglič out of the race due to his crash injuries. Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) and Simon Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech) were the other non-starters who both tested positive for COVID-19 before Phase 15.
Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikkel Honoré (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) joined Van Aert and with the peloton choosing to let them go, the breakaway was quickly formed. They opened a 1:30 lead before BikeExchange-Jayco and Alpecin-Deceuninck moved forward to keep them at bay.
When the Jumbo Visma car managed to overtake the peloton and join Van Aert after 30 km, they ordered her man to slow down and fall back; there was no tactical need for him to be up front in such a small group. Van Aert didn’t seem very happy, but followed the instructions and let Honoré and Politt continue as a couple.
Despite temperatures reaching 37C on the open road, the pair continued valiantly, but the peloton held them in check by around 2:00am. Honoré had clearly been given freedom to attack. Fabio Jakobsen’s leadout man Michael Mørkøv was dropped early in the stage and faced a personal struggle for survival. He would finish the stage but miss the time limit.
The central 100km of the stage was a game of cat and mouse between Honoré and Politt and the peloton. The two never let up, but neither did the peloton, with Chris Juul-Jensen putting in a lot of pace work.
Photographers had time to take their traditional sunflower shots of the peloton while drivers grabbed bidons and domestiques repeatedly drove to their team cars for more ice.
As France burned in the heat, protesters again tried to disrupt the Tour de France to get their cause across. However, the race police quickly pulled them off the road and Honoré and Politt rode on, as did the peloton.
The relaxed atmosphere ended 64 km from the finish. The protests seemed to have heightened the tension and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) fell badly in a sudden fall on a straight stretch of road.
Van Aert stopped to help him but the Dutch driver was injured. The race continued without him and Kruijswijk was loaded into an ambulance, the crowd applauding him. His team later said he suffered a dislocated shoulder.
Just seven kilometers later, Jumbo-Visma suffered another fall, this time Vingegaard went down with Tiesj Benoot. The race leader landed on his left shoulder and side but was not seriously injured and got up to chase. Vingegaard suffered a street rash, but it could have been a lot worse.
There was a moment of panic at Jumbo-Visma when Vingegaard got a bike change, but he soon joined several teammates and returned to the peloton ahead of the intermediate sprint and climb of the Côte des Cammazes.
Since the race was definitely “on”, the other drivers waited for Vingegaard. Honoré led Politt through the intermediate sprint, with Van Aert always alert and in front to finish third and earn more points for his green jersey.
The two leaders were caught climbing the Côte des Cammazes, with Trek-Segafredo setting a hard pace that immediately injured the sprinters.
Jonasrutsch (EF Education-EasyPost) tried to spark an attack, but Trek-Segafredo increased the pressure on the climb, bringing Rusch back and setting up the peloton to edge out some sprint rivals. Their efforts managed to evict Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExhchange-Jayco) and Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), among others.
As they neared the top of the Category 3 climb, Alexis Gougeard (B&B Hotels-KTM) and Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis) came over the top of the Trek-Segafredo train and danced off to grab the mountain points and attempt a gain victory gap.
However, in the long, gradual descent over the next 20km, the Groenewegen group steadily fought their way back to the peloton.
The two leaders continued to make progress while the reduced peloton waited until the last to even out the 20-second advantage. With 5 km to go, the duo was in sight on an arrow-straight track and had reduced the gap to 10 seconds. Thomas started in a desperate attempt to thwart the sprinters.
But all of Thomas’s efforts failed as the peloton under the Red Kite swept past him and meant 1km to go.
Trek-Segafredo launched a powerful lead out for Pedersen but he couldn’t stop Van Aert’s onslaught while Philipsen found another gear to pass them both.
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