As he crossed the finish line in Calais, leading an assortment of the world’s top sprinters, Belgian Jasper Philipsen roared with joy, clapping his chest and punching the air in delight. And why not? The 24-year-old Alpecin-Fenix rider believed he had just achieved by far the biggest win of his career to date; in the fourth stage of the Tour de France. This was something to tell the grandchildren about. The first Tour stage win of his career.
Except it wasn’t. What Philipsen didn’t realize was that he was sprinting for second place. The actual stage winner, Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma, had already crossed the line about eight seconds earlier, after escaping over the top of the final climb, 10 km from the end, and driving solo to the finish.
In a cruel – and very public – moment of realization, Philipsen’s celebration turned to fear.
Understandably, the youngster was still a little raucous when he spoke to reporters a few minutes later, describing the entire episode as “a little s—“.
“I never saw him leading the way on the climb,” said Philipsen. “It’s definitely a disappointment. Four or five seconds I really thought I’d won. It’ll end up being funny images. But I didn’t want this, so it’s also a bit s —.”
Philipsen, who explained that it was too noisy to hear anything on his radio as he prepared for his sprint, will no doubt be embarrassed. But his mistake is not uncommon in cycling.
There was a famous case in the Giro d’Italia in 2017 when Slovenia’s Luka Pibernik shot out of the front of the pack to thwart the sprinters and ‘win’ the fifth stage only to find that there was one lap of 6km left of the finish circuit to go. He finished 148th.
Just last month, Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) was in Philipsen’s shoes after celebrating what he believes was a stage win at the Tour de Suisse. His teammate had to inform him that Andreas Leknessund of Team DSM had unfortunately already taken the podium.
In perhaps the most famous instance, during last summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, Dutch great Annemiek van Vleuten thought she’d won gold in the women’s road race, but after celebrating at Mt Fuji Speedway discovered that she was in fact had finished second. the well-known Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer, an amateur rider and postgraduate mathematician who outsmarted the field, finishing more than a minute ahead of everyone.
Van Aert seals sensational solo victory on stage four
by Tom Cary in Calais
The Belgian Wout van Aert underlined his status as a generational talent on Tuesday with a sensational solo victory in the fourth stage of the Tour de France.
After three fairly pedestrian stages in Denmark, Van Aert’s win on the north coast of France was just what the race needed, delivering a jolt of electricity as the peloton gears up to face the terrifying cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix on Wednesday.
It also served as a reminder of what a talent he is. Van Aert’s victory was not only extraordinary because of the way it was achieved – the Jumbo-Visma rider clearly broke on the final climb of the day, with 10km to go, before holding the whole pack at a distance to tackle eight seconds to win – it was extraordinary for what it meant. His win, after finishing second in the time trial on the opening day and then the two sprint stages in Denmark, means he has now finished 1st-1st-2nd-2nd-2nd-1st in his last six Tour de France stages that going back to last summer.
That incredible consistency was seen across several stage profiles, including time trials, bunch sprints and rolling stages like Tuesday’s.
Since Van Aert also won the Queen’s Stage – the double climb of Mont Ventoux – the 27-year-old’s versatility is so versatile that many wonder if he could ever really take the yellow jersey. Not since his compatriot Eddy Merckx, or Frenchman Bernard Hinault, has the race seen a rider so powerful in all formats.
If he is released, Van Aert will undoubtedly also pose a threat on the pavé on Wednesday. It is more likely that he will be asked by his Jumbo-Visma team to look after their general classification hopefuls Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard.
“It will be an important stage to stay out of trouble for Jonas and Primoz,” Van Aert admitted. “But we also see it as an opportunity to try something in the general classification. If we can help Jonas and Primoz try something, that would be great.”
Van Aert celebrated his victory on Tuesday by flapping his arms as he crossed the line. He later said he had wanted to show that the yellow jersey has “given him wings”.