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by Shane Stokes
May 11, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Australian rider Michael Matthews has taken over the Maglia Rosa held by his team-mate Simon Gerrans as a result of stage two of the Giro d’Italia, with the Orica GreenEdge rider retaking the lead after his stint in pink last year.
Matthews placed seventh in the big bunch sprint to the line in Genoa, finishing in the same time as the day’s quickest rider, Elia Viviani (Sky).
The Italian beat Moreno Hofland (Team LottoNL-Jumbo), André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Luka Mezgec (Team Giant-Alpecin) and Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast Pro Cycling), while Gerrans placed 19th and consequently gave up his jersey to his compatriot Matthews.
Viviani ranked the triumph as extremely significant for his career, with the fact that it was in his home Grand Tour only adding to that satisfaction.
“In recent years I’ve come close, but I’ve always fallen short of taking a major win. This victory is my best result since I turned pro,” he said at the conclusion of the 177 kilometre leg. “It has taken time to achieve, but I’ve always believed in myself, I’ve never given up, and I think I’ve done it in the best way today.
“I’ve always come back to the Giro d’Italia to try for a stage win, and today, after my good start to the season, I have done it.”
His victory also put a smile back on the face of his Sky outfit. The team was disappointed to miss out on the team time trial win on Saturday, The squad was distant ninth, conceding 27 seconds to Orica GreenEdge and also giving up time to key rivals such as Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana.
“You need legs for a sprint like that, but also cold blood,” Viviani continued, explaining how the win came about. “I’ve learned to be colder: I’ve learned to risk losing in order to win. Greipel might have been the strongest today, seeing that it was uphill and he did a long sprint, and only Hofland and me managed to get past him. But, today, timing was everything. I don’t know what gear I used today: 11, 12 or 13. Probably 12. The legs choose the gear, not the head. More than choosing the gear, I knew you had to wait because it was uphill.”
He added that he was worried when Matthews launched his sprint, but that the Australian had simply hit out too soon and faded as a result.
Although the Australian wanted to pick up a victory, he ended up with the fine consolation of another stint in pink.
“It was quite difficult around the town,” he said, explaining how the finale played out. “It was quite safe if you were near the front, but in the middle of the bunch it was quite sketchy.
“Luckily I had some big guys to keep me at the front, out of trouble. In the last corner I was a bit far back, but we were able to keep the Maglia Rosa in the team, and that was the main job today.”
Asked about his next goal, he said that the team’s initial focus was to nab the team time trial win, and with it, the Maglia Rosa.
He added that stage three had been a bigger target than Sunday’s stage.
“Today was a stage to get through unscathed, and tomorrow suits us better,” he said. “I’ll try to win tomorrow while I’m wearing the Maglia Rosa, for sure. Then we’ll go for more stage wins, because these first two weeks suit our team really well.”
Like Viviani, the fact that his spot on the podium came on Italian soil means a lot to Matthews. He spent two years as an under 23 rider living in Varese. He will also get married in Italy later this year.
The 177 kilometre second stage took the riders from Albenga to Genoa and, predictably, a break got clear and worked hard to build a good buffer. Attacking minutes after the start, Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Eugert Zhupa (Southeast Pro Cycling), Lukasz Owsian (CCC Sprandi), Giacomo Berlato (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli) knuckled down well and established a lead of almost ten minutes after 65 kilometres.
Behind, chasing by the Orica GreenEdge team saw this advantage trimmed back; the erosion was further achieved when Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team stretched things out on the day’s climb.
The combined efforts of those two squads saw the break’s lead slashed to two and a half minutes with 40 kilometres remaining.
The bunch continued to get closer, despite a number of crashes which complicated things. Fallers included Australian national champion Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), team-mate Sylvain Chavanel and Pieter Serry of Etixx-QuickStep, who was forced to retire due to a fractured collarbone.
Contador’s squad was determined to keep him out of trouble and hit the jets once more. This had the dual effect of bringing back the break and also making it impossible for Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) to return after he was caught behind.
He finished one minute and nine seconds back, the same time loss as incurred by Lampre-Merida’s Diego Ulissi. Cannondale-Garmin’s Tom Danielson conceded event more time, dropping four minutes 58 seconds, while Hansen’s two crashes saw him trail in almost twelve minutes down.
Viviani had no major issues and was shepherded into the right position prior to the sprint. He blasted home first, while Matthews’ top ten placing put him into pink prior to Monday’s third stage, a 136 kilometre leg from Rapallo to Sestri Levante.