Philipsen pips Vingegaard in sprint finish at Saitama Criterium

Jasper Philipsen pipped Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard to the line in a sprint finish to win the Saitama Criterium in Japan on Sunday.

Vingegaard said he had "no chance" of beating Belgian sprint specialist Philipsen when the pair and Welshman Geraint Thomas closed in on the line after almost 60 kilometres of street racing.

"I had to try in the sprint but 10 out of 10 he would beat me," said the Dane.

"Of course I would have liked to win, but in a sprint I don't really have a chance against Jasper."

Vingegaard won the inaugural Singapore Criterium last week after a blistering final lap battling against a hot tropical sun.

Conditions were cooler as the Japanese race returned for the first time since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Vingegaard could not give himself enough breathing space to avoid the sprint finish.

Philipsen won two stages on this year's Tour de France and he said he was confident of success when he moved into position for the line.

"The tactic was for sure that I had to use my sprint -- that's my strong point," said the 24-year-old.

"It was not against the strongest sprinters that I had to do the sprint, but they're just super-strong riders and I'm just happy that I could finish in the sprint."

- Retiring legends -

Thomas took third place behind Vingegaard, with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde finishing fourth.

Valverde and Italian fellow cycling icon Vincenzo Nibali have already officially retired and were likely competing in the final event of their careers.

The pair broke away from the pack with around five laps to go and built a sizeable lead until being caught with around two laps remaining.

They shared a fist bump before Vingegaard took over in front.

"They are two really great riders, they have been here for so many years and had so many big results," Vingegaard said of Nibali and Valverde.

"It's really nice to see that they were out there in the front together. I guess it's their last race now so it's a nice way to finish off."

Vingegaard said after the race that he and his Jumbo-Visma team would sit down next month to decide his plans for next year.

The 25-year-old has said he would like to defend his Tour de France title and he believes next year's route has "a bit of everything".

"It's a lot of climbing, more than this year, not a lot of time-trialling," he said.

"I would say it's quite a good route."

Philipsen said Vingegaard had achieved something "special" by winning the Tour de France, and described racing against him as an honour.

"If you can win the Tour in your career, it's a crazy achievement that not a lot of people can say," he said.

"I have a lot of respect for Jonas and also for the other riders who are going to retire.

"When I was younger, 10 years ago, they were the legends of the sport -- still now. It's always an honour for me to race with them."

amk/mca