Michael Matthews has taken ORICA-GreenEDGE’s first win on European soil for the 2014 season, with a convincing bunch sprint victory at the Vuelta a La Rioja in Basque Country. Matthews bettered his second place position at this event last year, finishing off an exemplary display of teamwork by the Australian team to take the win ahead of Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural- Seguros RGA) in second and Carlos Barbero (Euskadi) in third.
“It’s obviously nice to win at any time, but the first win of the year is always hard to get,” said Matthews. “Once you get the first one they usually keep coming. The lead-out was perfect today, probably the best lead-out I’ve experienced with any team. Hopefully the win today gives the team confidence that I can win and if we can keep these lead-outs going there should be more wins to come.”
The team went into the 164.7 kilometre warm up race for this week’s six day Vuelta al Pais Vasco firmly focused on getting Matthews to the line for the win.
“Everything went to plan today,” confirmed Matthews. “We came here and were expected to win. We had to work a little harder than we would have liked to bring back the break at the end and we had to sacrifice a few guys.”
“Hopefully they can recover ahead of the first stage of Pais Vasco tomorrow,” added Matthews. “We’ve done recon on that stage and it’s going to be harder than we first expected. We’ll be giving it a good go tomorrow.”
A flurry of early attacks led to the formation of the day’s main breakaway, which included Christian Meier and Damien Howson. Once that was reeled in, a smaller break of six riders managed to escape and maintained a slim advantage over the bunch into the final kilometres of the race. With around 10 kilometres remaining, ORICA-GreenEDGE moved to the front and worked systematically to bring ensure a bunch sprint for Matthews.
“Our main objective today was to win,” explained Sport Director Neil Stephens. “We wanted to do it while conserving energy ahead of Pais Vasco, which is a big objective for us.”
“We had Meier and Howson in the main break, but we decided it was too big,” Stephens continued. “It started to get out of control, so we worked to bring it back. A smaller break then went and Damien Howson assumed responsibility for keeping that break within reach.”
“The guys worked together to bring that back,” Stephens added. “Brett Lancaster stepped in at the finish and did a great job to drop Michael Matthews off in a winning position.”
With the team’s first win of the European season coming relatively late in comparison with previous years, the confidence garnered from Matthew’s win has come at an ideal time ahead of the Basque tour that brought so much success for the team in 2013.
“This win is really good for morale ahead of Pais Vasco,” said Stephens. “We’ve given our older guys a bit of a rest, which meant our younger guys had the chance to take a few opportunities, which they did quite successfully. Now our more experienced riders are back in the mix, and we’re going to try to win some bike race again. It’s taken a little while to get our first victory in Europe this year, but this is a great sign of things to come in the weeks ahead.”