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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Jasper Philipsen comes of age

Alpecin-Fenix keeps punching above its weight, and Jasper Philipsen delivers to give team opening bunch sprint victories in all three grand tours in 2021.

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BURGOS, Spain (VN) — Being on the “right team” can make all the difference for a rider’s trajectory.

Just ask Jasper Philipsen, who bolted to an impressive sprint victory Sunday in stage 2 at the Vuelta a España.

For 2021, the 23-year-old Belgian stepped out of the WorldTour with UAE Emirates to join second-tier Alpecin-Fenix in a move — that at least from the outside — might have seemed like a step down.

But for Philipsen, who joined the WorldTour in 2019 at the ripe age of 21 after just one season with Hagens Berman Axeon, it’s all been an upward trajectory since making the swap.

“This team is really focused on the classics and the sprints,” Philipsen said Sunday. “We have great riders, great staff and material, and the sprint culture is growing here. There’s a lot on this team.”

Also read:

UAE Emirates, of course, is building a grand tour racing machine built around the legs of two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar.

The team is bringing on more support for Pogačar with the arrival of such riders as Marc Soler, George Bennett and João Almeida, and shipping out the likes of Alexander Kristoff.

Also read: Hunting for the next Pogačar

Though UAE Emirates doesn’t turn its back completely on sprinting — the team is also signing Pascal Ackerman and Álvaro José Hodeg for 2022 — Philipsen jumped at the chance to move to Alpecin-Fenix last year.

And it’s paid off better than he could have ever expected.

Earlier this season, the Belgian kicked to victory at the important sprinter’s classic Scheldeprijs as well as punched his ticket to the Tour de France.

Though he didn’t win a stage, he kicked to second or third on six stages.

Rather than create frustration, Philipsen came to the Vuelta determined to get it right.

“I don’t know what changed in the confidence [from the Tour],” he said. “It’s just another sprint and another opportunity, and everything went into the right spot today. I was just really happy that I could finish it off today.”

Punching above its weight

Alpecin-Fenix is the most successful second-tier in the peloton right now.

In fact, it’s in the so-called “ProTeam” level only in name. Its budget is equal to more than a few of the WorldTour teams, and the squad packs the superstar prestige of Mathieu van der Poel.

Also read: Van der Poel still on for worlds, Roubaix

The Dutch rider won stage 2 at the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for a week, but the team continues to demonstrate it is much deeper than just being a support cast to van der Poel.

With Philipsen’s victory Sunday, the team’s haul on 2021 is an impressive 23 victories. And it’s not just all about van der Poel. A total of seven of the team’s riders have stepped on the winner’s podium so far this season.

“I think we showed we are capable of racing on the highest level on this team as a pro-conti team,” he said. “We’ve won races at the highest level all season long.”

Many were surprised to see Alpecin-Fenix producing wins that were not only generated with van der Poel’s powerful engine. In fact, only seven of the team’s 23 wins come thanks to van der Poel, though those wins are certainly among the most prestigious.

Philipsen’s win Sunday also means that Alpecin-Fenix wins the first bunch sprint in all three grand tours in 2021. Tim Merlier won stage 2 at the Giro d’Italia in May, as well as in stage 3 at the Tour, on both occasions that were the first mass gallop of those races.

Philipsen was happy to keep the streak going Sunday.

Riders passed a message about the stat in the team’s WhatsApp group overnight, and Philipsen had the milestone in the back of his mind.

“It’s really funny that this happens,” he said. “Everyone wondered if we would win in the first sprint — you also need to be lucky. We all showed that the team is very strong and everyone is very motivated, and that we are working together very well.”

Philipsen clearly feels right at home in Alpecin-Fenix colors.