Matthews defends Maglia Rosa in style with Giro d’Italia stage win, Evans gains time on GC rivals
At the end of a long and dangerous day in the saddle, Michael Matthews survived the carnage on the roads to Montecassino and delivered on his earlier promise to try to win stage six of the Giro d’Italia. The race leader defended his Maglia Rosa in fine style, sprinting in at the head of a four man group which also included Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol), fellow Australian Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli – Yellow Fluo).
Behind, several big name riders lost out, with crashes ending the general classification hopes of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who finished but abandoned, Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff Saxo) and Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing), while former race winner Michele Scarponi (Astana) dropped one minute 37 seconds. He’s now almost two and a half minutes back and almost certainly out of the hunt for the Maglia Rosa.
“It was all for the win today. Fair play,” said a content Matthews after the stage. “It was me against him [Cadel Evans] for the jersey and the stage, and I was lucky enough to have really good legs in the final after my team put me in the perfect condition at the bottom of the climb. On this sort of terrain, it’s definitely my best win, and totally a dream come true.
“Winning a hilltop finish over Cadel Evans while wearing the Maglia Rosa in the Giro d’Italia: it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Matthews said earlier in the race that while he was not sprinting as well as before, his uphill riding in this Giro d’Italia was at a very good level. He stated that stages five and six were his best chance for a stage win and while he had to be content with fourth on Wednesday, things worked out much better on Thursday.
“I was always a good climber, but I didn’t have the confidence that I needed to go into these climbing stages and be good,” he said. “These last two stages I’ve proved to myself that I can do it, and from now on I’ll be aiming, not for the high mountain stages, but for the stages that finish with a short climb. I now know I can win on that terrain and in the flat sprints too.”
The race from Sassano was originally scheduled to be 247 kilometres in length but this was extended by ten kilometres as a result of a landslide, thus making it the longest stage in the race. Given the distance, it was not a surprise that an early move was able to gain time.
Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli), Rodolfo Torres (Colombia), Marco Bandiera (Androni Giocattoli) and Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF) worked well together and opened a lead of fourteen minutes after some sixty kilometres of racing.
The bunch worked well behind to gradually chip away at that advantage and the move was finally hauled back with twelve kilometres remaining.
The finishing climb made things nervous in the bunch and conscious of the need to be in a good position, the GC riders, stage hopefuls and their teams tried to move up prior to the start of the final ascent. However this pressure led to two crashes, with many riders hitting the deck. Katusha’s Giampaolo Caruso was particularly badly hurt, and was taken away with suspected fractures.
“Everyone wanted to be in the front because of the wet conditions,” Matthews explained afterwards. “The road narrowed before the roundabout, we were riding at 60 kph, and everyone wanted to be in the front. If you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you’re okay. That’s racing these days. It’s all about positioning.”
Evans’ BMC Racing Team continued to drive the pace, seeking to put the Australian in a position to fight for the stage and the overall lead. Matthews was riding well, though, and sat third wheel, biding his time. Eight riders were in this lead group, while behind the Movistar team was chasing hard for Nairo Quintana. Further back, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was losing time after his own fall. Rodriguez finished the race but after visiting the hospital and x-rays revealed fractures he abandoned the Giro. Angel Vicioso and Giampaolo Caruso from Katusha also abandoned due to injuries.
Heading into the final kilometre Evans pushed the pace in a bid to shake off Matthews, but the younger Australian was fully committed to chasing the stage and protecting his jersey. Evans continued on, knowing he was set to gain time on his GC rivals, and had no answer when Matthews and Wellens nipped past just before the line.
Matthews clearly gained confidence from the result and said he wanted more. “We’ll try again for the win tomorrow. We have a really strong team for the lead-outs, as we showed in the opening team time trial. We’re not going to back down now: we have two stage wins now. We’ll push all the way and see how far we can get.”
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