Matthews surprised by runner-up ride in Tour’s third stage

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Michael Matthews (Sunweb) won the uphill sprint ahead of a strong field on Monday’s third stage of the Tour de France, which was probably his goal at the start of the day.

Unfortunately for the 28-year-old Australian, that fast finish was only enough for runner-up honors in Épernay, as Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) had crossed the line well before, following a successful solo attack.

Matthews was left with mixed feelings after the second-place ride. The 2017 Green Jersey winner took some solace from the fact that he was able to top Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the final push after suffering through the final half hour of the stage.

“I certainly surprised myself in the sprint,” Matthews said. “I was really struggling on the steep climbs today but in the finish, I gave everything I had left. Luckily it was good enough for second.”

Peter Sagan on the other hand was a bit more relaxed about today’s stage saying, “It was not a sprint for second, it was a battle for the loser.”

A collection of rolling hills on the run-in to the uphill finish of stage 3 gave Alaphilippe ample opportunity to get clear—and also put Matthews on the limit. He said after the finish that his condition was not quite where he wanted it to be, and that showed as he nearly lost touch on the climbs.

“I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t tired, but I was destroyed,” he said. “I was almost dropped on the third-to-last climb where Quick-Step really pushed it and exploded the bunch, but I had good teammates around me to keep me motivated and bring me back to the front.”

Matthews came into this Tour on an unexpected trajectory, with team leader Tom Dumoulin ruled out due to injury just two weeks before the Grand Départ in Brussels. That forced Sunweb to alter the team plans for the race – plans that had been wholly focused on Dumoulin’s yellow jersey hopes. Matthews said before the race that he had been training for an expected domestique role, and therefore was unsure of how things would go now that he was suddenly back in the role of stage hunter.

With that in mind, stage 3 was a mixed bag across the board. Matthews was pleased to have sprinted as well as he did and will take confidence from the finish. He has also moved into second overall in the points classification behind six-time winner Peter Sagan. On the other hand, the win would have obviously been nice, and Matthews was not content with the way he had struggled on the lumpy parcours.

“This is a positive for sure, but my feeling isn’t great at the moment, so I’m not super happy,” Matthews said. “But I’ll keep fighting every day until I get that win.”

He should have more opportunities ahead. The days to come feature multiple stages with profiles that could suit Matthews’ skillset. If he can put everything together – and if the peloton can shut down long-range moves like the one that propelled Alaphilippe into yellow on Monday – there’s every chance he’ll be in the mix for the stage victory he seeks.

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