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As Philipsen crossed the line on stage 15 in Carcassonne, he refrained from celebrating for a fraction of a second before he was absolutely sure of the result.
But when the celebrations began, they began in earnest. The Belgian fist-bumped Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) as they rode past the photographers, had a bottle of water poured on him by Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and was congratulated by his Alpecin-Deceuninck teammates.
“Surely it’s the biggest victory in my career yet,” Philipsen said in his winner’s press conference. “The Tour de France is the highest level race for a sprinter, so I’m super happy to win at the highest level possible. This day I will remember for a long time.”
It has been a difficult Tour so far for Alpecin-Deceuninck whose star rider Mathieu van der Poel was noticeably out of sorts, registering just one top-10 finish — a fifth place on the opening day’s time trial — before abandoning the race on stage 11.
“I’m just going to enjoy this first and then put our focus to the last week,” Philipsen said. “The pressure is off, everybody, all the staff. [With] Mathieu going home, it has not been an easy Tour for us, but I think today really showed the strength of the squad.”
This. Feels. So. Good! 🥳 pic.twitter.com/HmWhtywq2X
— Alpecin-Deceuninck Cycling Team (@AlpecinDCK) July 17, 2022
Last year, Alpecin won two stages, courtesy of Van der Poel and Tim Merlier, while Philipsen finished on the podium six times. One of those occasions was in Carcassonne, where he crossed the line third, behind Mark Cavendish and Michael Mørkøv (both then Deceuninck-Quickstep).
“Knowing the finish line was pretty helpful, but not being here with Mark Cavendish was also pretty helpful,” Phillipsen said.
Compared to last year’s route, there are far fewer opportunities for sprinters. On stage 4 into Calais, Van Aert ambushed the peloton to claim a solo victory while on Friday’s stage 13, Pedersen won from a breakaway. Even today’s stage 15, a supposedly straightforward sprint stage, was punctuated by crashes, GC action and an attempt to drop the pure sprinters.
“The parcours is not really in our advantage,” Philipsen said. “I think we had also a good opportunity in Calais, but then Wout decided differently. I think last Friday was also a good opportunity, but a strong group went up the road. Today everything felt in the right place.”
The opening kilometers of stage 15 were relatively relaxed; only a two-man breakaway formed — after van Aert dropped back to rejoin the peloton — as the race’s frenetic pace seemed briefly stifled by the 40C (104F) temperatures.
“We had a lot of ice, water, flowing all day. We put a lot of effort into this, to keep us as cool as possible, which was really key today. Crazy circumstances to ride our bikes in,” Philipsen said.
After the rest day on Monday, The Pyrénées and a 40km individual time trial are the main attraction in the Tour’s last week but there are two stages left designed for the sprinters, that finish in Cahors and, of course, Paris.
“New chances will come, that must be the motivation,” Philipsen said. “If there was no sprint left, it would be mentally more tough. You have to keep on fighting every day for chances like this. It’s not easy to look forward for such a long time. Today shows like it’s worth it, and there are hopefully two opportunities next week.”