Matthews scorches to Vuelta stage win and overall lead
Replicating his stage victory earlier this year in the Giro d’Italia, Michael Matthews showed perfect timing to hit the line first at the end of day three of the Vuelta a España. The Orica GreenEdge rider increased his Grand Tour stage tally to four when he outsprinted Garmin-Sharp rider Dan Martin to the line in Arcos de la Frontera, coming off the Irishman’s wheel inside the final 100 metres of the uphill drag to the finish.
Matthews finished half a bike length clear of Martin, while there was a bigger gap between the duo and the next riders across the line, namely Joaquin Rodriguez (Team Katusha), Wilco Kelderman, Paul Martens (both Belkin Pro Cycling) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team).
Despite those gaps, the first 16 riders home were all categorised as finishing in the same time. Overnight race leader Alejandro Valverde was only 39th, losing seven seconds, and this plus the time bonus up for grabs saw Matthews take over in the red jersey of race leader.
“I couldn’t ask for much more,” said the Australian at the finish. “We started as the favourite team today. It was up to us to ride all day. Unfortunately I had to use all my guys from the very beginning to bring the breakaway back. As you can see, the guys have totally spent themselves to bring me where I am now. It would have definitely been impossible to win without them.
“In the final, Kolobnev attacked [actually Caruso – ed.]. I didn’t think we’d catch him but Chris Froome went over the top to chase him down with Dan Martin on the wheel. It was up to me to jump on Dan Martin and hopefully come over him in the finale. I just got him in the finale. For me and for the team, it was a 110% effort, like we planned.”
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is now second, four seconds back, with his team-mate Valverde slipping eleven seconds off the pace to third overall. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) are fourth and fifth.
Martin is continuing to get time back after Garmin-Sharp’s disappointing opening day team time trial, jumping up 59 places to 24th overall.
Tipped GC contenders Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) were tenth and 16th respectively, and are now 17th and 12th overall.
Matthews will wear the leader’s jersey on Tuesday and is delighted to do so. “To be here in the red jersey and win a stage in this Vuelta, it’s a dream come true. I love Spain, I love this race,” he said.
“It’s such a nice race, riding through the whole of Spain. I can’t ask for much more out of this race for myself but… keeping the red jersey, I haven’t looked that far ahead yet. There are around ten stages that suit my capabilities, so hopefully there are a few more stages for me to win after this one.”
How it played out:
The 197.8 kilometre third stage from Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera was considerably tougher than Sunday’s stage two, with four category three climbs looming along the course as well as a short, steep uphill finish to the line.
Those ascents were the Puerto de Gális (km 91.8), the Alto Alcornocales (km 94.8), the Alto del Camino (km 135.6) and the Puerto del Boyar (km 151.6). The final climb wasn’t categorised, but kicked up inside the final two kilometres and was certain to make things tough for some riders.
The tough parcours gave hope for riders that a breakaway might succeed, and this prompted five to scurry clear inside the first ten kilometres. Jerome Cousin (Team Europcar), Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN – Qhubeka), Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA), Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing Team) and Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM Cycling) combined together to quickly eke out a lead of three and a half minutes and this jumped up to over five minutes by the 20 kilometre point.
The quintet continued to pull clear and had an eight minute lead after fifty kilometres. The pendulum swung the other way after that and it was down to five minutes by the time the riders hit that first climb, the Puerto de Gális.
Cousin pushed ahead on the slopes to pick up maximum mountain points, and was also first to the top of the Alto Alcornocales (km 94.8). The climbs helped the bunch to nibble away at the break’s lead and with 75 kilometres left, those out front had two and a half minutes.
This prompted the break to ramp up the pace, putting Fumeaux into trouble. He slipped backwards, while out front Bonet kicked clear with approximately 70 kilometres to go. He pushed ahead and increased his advantage over the peloton to over four minutes. Behind, the Orica GreenEdge team was chasing for its sprinter Michael Matthews.
Bonet led over the top of the final two climbs of the day, the Alto del Camino (km 135.6) and the Puerto del Boyar (km 151.6). This would ensure he took the lead in the King of the Mountains classification from Sunday’s jersey-wearer Nathan Haas, but he also wanted to try for the stage win.
The bunch had other thoughts, though. It closed the gap to less than two minutes and Bonet realised his chances were very limited. He eased back and was absorbed by the field with 25 kilometres remaining.
Soon afterwards a crash took down several Movistar riders, including race leader Alejandro Valverde, but he was able to remount and get back to the peloton. While he was not too badly hurt, the effects of the crash and energy expended in the chase would hamper his intention of trying for the stage win.
Soon before the ten kilometre to go point Lotto-Belisol’s Adam Hansen jumped clear. He opened a decent lead but with the bunch chasing hard behind, he was hauled back with approximately six kilometres remaining.
That prompted the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team and others to push harder at the front, trying to guide their designated riders for the stage into prime position. Hitting speeds of over 60 kilometres per hour on the descent prior to the ramp up to the line, the peloton had a turbulent look to it as different teams and riders surged to the front.
Katusha and Giant Shimano took over and, heading into three kilometres to go, they led at the front. Very soon afterwards to go the riders reached the pinch point before the finale, a tight bridge bringing them across the town’s river. The road continued to drop after this, but with just under two kilometres to go the gradient started to ratchet up and the stronger riders pushed forwards.
The Katusha team were very much in the thick of things and moved to the head of the peloton. Giampaolo Caruso used his team-mates’ efforts as a platform and kicked clear, but Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin was feeling good and set off in pursuit, overhauling him inside the final 100 metres. Michael Matthews was lurking, though, and the Orica GreenEdge rider jumped off Martin’s wheel to win.
The success followed on from his two stage wins in last year’s Vuelta plus his triumph in this year’s Giro d’Italia and, equally importantly, gave him the time bonus needed to take over in the red jersey of race leader.
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