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Alpecin-Deceuninck team's Belgian rider Jasper Philipsen (centre) cycles past the finish line to win ahead of second-placed Intermarche - Wanty team's Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay (R) and third-placed Israel - Premier Tech team's German rider Pascal Ackermann (L) during the 10th stage of the 111th edition of the Tour de France cycling race, 187,3 km between Orleans and Saint-Amand-Montrond, central France, on Tuesday. Image Credit: AFP

Saint-Amand-Montrond: Belgian Jasper Philipsen won a mass sprint ahead of Eritrean Biniam Girmay on a flat 10th stage he described as a “mental rest day” in the Tour de France on Tuesday.

Tellingly there was no escape from the peloton after riders had their first actual rest day on Monday, and while the pace was slow the final sprint on the 187.3km ride south from Orleans was explosive.

Last year’s green jersey winner Philipsen won by a clear margin to close the gap on current occupant Girmay, who has 267 points to the Alpecin rider’s 193.

Philipsen, 26, was guided to victory by teammate and world road race champion Mathieu van der Poel.

“When you have a world champion to lead you out in your Tour de France sprint it is magnificent,” said Philipsen after hitting a speed of 75km/h (46.6 mph).

“He managed to do exactly what we wanted. It’s something special, all credit to him,” he said of Van der Poel, who will be one of the favourites for the Olympic road race in Paris next month.

After Monday’s day without racing, the 172 remaining riders embarked from the city of Orleans past the statue of Jeanne d’Arc and the historic city’s giant cathedral.

“It was maybe a mental rest day,” Philipsen said apologetically.

“There was a bit of joking and riders chatting with friends,” he added.

Low balmy skies and a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) persuaded the bunch to pace themselves across the vast wheat plains to the south of Orleans.

It was slow enough for Briton Tom Pidcock to unwrap a sandwich from silver foil, while beside him Pavel Sivakov spotted the open door of a camping car and gracefully launched his water bottle through it.

Halfway to Nice

Before Wednesday’s potentially explosive stage, man-to-beat Tadej Pogacar protected his 33-second overall lead over Remco Evenepoel with defending champion Jonas Vingegaard at 1min 15sec in third.

“Tomorrow will be full gas (very fast),” predicted Tuesday’s winner.

The so-called Fab Four of Pogacar, Evenepoel, Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic are locked in a tense and tetchy struggle at this halfway stage, with no obvious favourite yet.

In his Giro d’Italia-Tour double bid Pogacar may have expected to be further ahead given how much effort he has invested.

“I’m looking forward to the Pyrenees and I know them well,” said Pogacar, adding that he lived near Nice where the race ends and had studied those hills well.

Evenepoel looks fresh and calm and is giving off a far happier vibe than the three others.

Two-time winner Vingegaard is riding into form and winning a war of nerves as he tails Pogacar relentlessly, but has suffered an early blow with the 1min 15sec deficit.

Pogacar’s compatriot Roglic is waging a dark horse run in fourth at 1min 36sec but is priming his form for week three.

Any hopes of a record-extending 36th stage win for Mark Cavendish dissolved when he lost his sprint train on a tight corner in the final kilometre.

Strong winds

At the same finish line on stage 13 of the 2013 Tour, 39-year-old Cavendish managed to cross an echelon in strong winds, but on Tuesday he was outside the chase at the finale.

Wednesday’s 211km ride continues south but through dormant volcanic mountains including a handful of testing climbs to the west of the city of Clermont.

French rider Romain Bardet, who has finished in the top three of the Tour’s overall standings twice, will be celebrated by fans planning a warm welcome in his home region on is his final Grande Boucle.

“There will be a good party whatever happens,” Bardet said.