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Tour de France: Philipsen wins stage 10 as lead quartet ramp up war of words
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Tour de France: Philipsen wins stage 10 as lead quartet ramp up war of words

Jasper Philipsen, of the Alpecin-Deceuninck team, finally found his sprinting legs in the 10th stage of the Tour de France, from Orléans to Saint-Amand-Montrond, taking the win ahead of Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay.

Philipsen, winner of four stages in 2023, has struggled in this year’s Tour, but was given a perfect lead-out by teammate, Mathieu van der Poel, the world road race champion, to banish memories of a torrid first week. “It’s never easy to win,” Philipsen said of his first success in this year’s race. “Last week we had a shit week, and today maybe we made it look easy, but we know how difficult it is.”

Once nicknamed “Jasper disaster” for his accident-prone racing style, Philipsen has struggled since the Tour rolled away from Florence. But he and Van der Poel finally rekindled the partnership that had proven so effective a year ago. “For me, he was 10 out of 10,” Philipsen said of his teammate. “He played completely to his strength. This was what I imagined and what I hoped for, to see the world champion leading me out in the last 200 metres. All credit to him.”

Just as they had in earlier sprints, Mark Cavendish’s Astana Qazaqstan team hugged the right-hand side of the road on the approach to the finish, but as the front group entered the last 300m, the 39-year-old had lost his teammates and finished out of the top 10.

With Girmay having won two stages and dominating the green points jersey competition, after hoovering up more points at intermediate sprints, the pressure on Philipsen to be more competitive has been intense. With Wednesday’s mountain stage in the Massif Central looming on the horizon, most of the peloton were happy to take it easy on a soporific stage characterised by lingering helicopter images of chateaux and hay bale art.

Meanwhile, as the dust settled following last Sunday’s gravel stage, the Tour’s big four – current race leader Tadej Pogacar, defending champion Jonas Vingegaard, Tour debutant Remco Evenepoel and multiple Grand Tour winner Primoz Roglic – have ramped up a war of words that had been simmering for much of the first week.

Claudette and Jacky Lemeije stand in the doorway of their house in the village of Ligny-le-Ribault as Tadej Pogacar (right) and the peloton pass through.View image in fullscreen

With his habitual franc-parler, Evenepoel criticised Vingegaard’s defensive tactics on stage nine. “Sometimes you also need the balls to race,” the Belgian said. “Maybe Jonas didn’t have them.” Vingegaard responded in kind. “It wasn’t a lack of balls,” he said. “I just rode smart.”

Coincidentally, the Dane is now also growing a faint moustache. “I don’t have so much capabilities of growing a moustache, but I’m trying at least,” he said. Asked if he had any plans to follow suit, the fresh-faced Pogacar shrugged then said: “This year I’m shaving more than last year, that’s for sure.”

Barbed comments aside, the next test of the defending champion’s mettle, let alone his masculinity, will come in Wednesday’s stage to Le ­Lioran, over some of the nastier climbs in the Corrèze and Cantal, where the rivalry between the big four is likely to intensify. However, Roglic’s hand, as leader of the Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe team, has been weakened by the loss of key climbing lieutenant, Aleksandr Vlasov, who quit the Tour with a broken ankle after crashing on Sunday’s stage around Troyes.

For Pogacar, who sounded a little bemused by the verbal volleys, the mountains can’t come soon enough. The former Tour champion has seemed a little on edge in recent days, bemoaning the stress of the Tour’s flat stages and saying at the end of last week that “there is nothing to look forward to”.

Now at last, after what was effectively a second rest day, the boy racer finally has some long, steep gradients to sink his teeth into. “They made it a bit too long,” Pogacar said of the 211km 11th stage, “but the final is super-nice and really explosive.”

After all the sledging, if the Slovenian is ready to race with the same aggression that characterised his win in May’s Giro d’Italia, it will be his legs that do the talking.

Source: theguardian.com