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The 60km criterium around the Japanese city is the second in a series of two post-season exhibition events put on by the Tour de France organizer ASO in Asia this winter. The yellow jersey, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) was allowed the chance to take the win at the first event in Singapore.
While the Singapore Criterium was new for this year, the Saitama race has become a staple of the post-season. Huge crowds packed the roadside to see their favorite cycling stars, even if the conclusion was unlikely to be a surprise.
Philipsen, who won the final stage of this year’s Tour de France, beat Vingegaard and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in a three-up sprint following a late move off the front of the peloton to take the exhibition race.
“It’s a really nice feeling, it’s been a while,” Philipsen said. “In front of so many people here in Saitama, it’s a really cool atmosphere. I had good legs today and this kind of criterium suits me well, so I was happy with how it went.”
Retiring riders Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) got their moment in the sun as the pair attacked with five laps to go.
They were allowed to have a small 25-second gap on the bunch behind before being reeled in by a five-man chase group of Vingegaard, Thomas, Philipsen, Enric Mas (Movistar), and Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech).
Following a series of late attacks, the group of Thomas, Philipsen, and Vingegaard emerged on the final lap. Vingegaard made a crowd-pleasing attack inside the final kilometer, but a Philipsen victory was always on the cards.
Valverde led the chasing group across the line, with Mas just behind him, to finish his career. Mark Cavendish took the sprint from the main bunch behind, which crossed the line just under 30 seconds later.