Wheels Roundup: Concern Over Cavendish, Philipsen Bullies to Win Classic Brugge-De Panne

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Four days after his sensational Milan–San Remo victory, Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Deceuninck) elbowed his way to a controversial win in the Classic Brugge-De Panne. The race was run over a mostly flat 198.9 km course that favoured a bunch sprint finish and in the end, it came down to a mano a mano between the two best sprinters on the road currently, Philipsen and Soudal Quick-Step’s Tim Merlier who already had six wins under his belt.

But Philipsen’s win was far from easy and not without incident. When the sprint kicked off, with BORA-hansgrohe’s Danny van Poppel in the lead, Philipsen came up on Merlier’s left and appeared to lean into his fellow Belgian just as he was building up speed. That appeared to halt Merlier’s momentum as Philipsen surged past him and held on to a narrow victory. After the finish, Merlier was visibly angry and appeared to make his feelings known to his rival [see the video of the finish HERE].

In a post-race interview, Philipsen said, “I see a gap on the left side. Tim wanted to take this gap but, of course, there’s space for only one guy in this gap and I’m happy we stayed upright.”

Understandably, Merlier was less calm. “Jasper was coming and I felt something in my back and at that moment I stopped pedalling,” he said. “I’m blocked behind the wheel of Danny [van Poppel] and my sprint was done. I was in a good position, the team did a great job. I wanted to do a good sprint today but I didn’t do a sprint so, of course, I’m disappointed.” He went on to say that he and Philipsen shook hands after the race.

It looks like we are building up to a very hot sprint season.

Jasper Philipsen
Four days after his sensational Milan–San Remo victory, Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Deceuninck) elbowed his way to a controversial win in the Classic Brugge-De Panne. © Profimedia

Cavendish’s season thrown into doubt by fitness questions

Mark Cavendish’s quest to become the first rider to win 35 Tour de France stages was thrown into doubt this week as his Astana Qazaqstan team said there was no known timeline for his return to racing. The 38-year-old Briton had been scheduled to start the Classic Brugge-De Panne this week but was scratched at the last minute due to illness.

“He’s sick, so it was not possible to take to the start,” Astana Qazaqstan director Stefano Zanini told GCN in Bruges. “It’s not easy riding Milano-Torino when you are sick but here it’s impossible. The Belgian races are very different. They are hard when you are in 100% condition. For sure, it was impossible to take the start here.”

After a disappointing spring, with only a stage victory in the Tour Colombia in February, Cavendish pulled out midway through the Milano-Torino because he felt ill. Since then his best finish was 17th place in stage 5 of the UAE Tour, a race he did not finish. He then failed to make the time cutoff of stage 5 of the Tirreno-Adriatico before he abandoned the Milano-Torino.

Confusion surrounds the exact nature of his illness. The team said at the Milano-Torino that he was suffering from “gastrointestinal discomfort” but Cavendish said at the start of that race that he was coming down with a cold. This week, at the Classic Brugge-De Panne, Zanini said that it was a respiratory problem but “nothing special.”

Cavendish unretired this year to try again to break the Tour’s stage victories record, which he holds jointly with Eddy Merckx. The race is still more than three months away, but Cavendish will be 39 when the Tour kicks off and the race will be loaded with young, hungry and in-form sprinters, so it will be an uphill battle for the rider considered the GOAT. Fingers crossed.

[GOAT = greatest of all time]