Another Box Ticked at Challenge Mallorca

Mon 10 Feb 2014

Michael Matthews sprinted to sixth place in Santanyi on the second day of the Mallorca Challenge. Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) made it two for two with his victory at the Trofeo Ses Selines. The Italian edged out Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on the uphill finish.

“Normally this would be a good stage finish for Michael Matthews,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “If we had a dedicated sprint train or it was a different time of the year, we’d expect bigger things from Michael. He went in and did his own sprint. It was only his second sprint of the season. To come away with sixth is a fine result considering our objectives.” 

Windy conditions and the threat of rain likely contributed to the nervous start of the circuit race. Despite the relatively high speeds, seven riders managed to force their way up the road and into the early break. They were able to extend their advantage out to 7’30 before the field began to close the gap.

“It was a bit of a nervous day,” noted Assistant Sport Director Julian Dean. “There are a lot of riders at a lot of different levels with a lot of different expectations at this race. NO one was prepared to take too much risk or responsibility today. A lot of guys just wanted to get through the race unscathed. There were several crashes during the first two laps. Michael Matthews had a small crash, but he came back fine.”

In the second of three circuit laps, Michael Albasini was part of an elite selection that formed behind the breakaway. He was in the right place at the right time to make the split that formed when Omega Pharma – Quick-Step lifted the pace.

“It was surprising actually,” Stephens said. “The first lap had a bit of fireworks. The second lap had even more. Quick-Step really picked up the pace. Michael was very attentive and went off the front with those guys.”

“Quick-Step opened up an echelon in the wind,” Albasini explained. “I was in the right spot to be there, but one other rider left open a gap. I was trying to close it for around one kilometre. In the crosswinds, that’s quite hard.”

“I closed the gap to get in the front group,” Albasini added. “There were something like seven Quick-Step, seven Movistar and me. It took a lot of energy to get to the front, and after that, I felt a little empty for the rest of the race.”

Pieter Weening and Ivan Santaromita withdrew from the race during the second circuit lap. Weening is recovering from a knee injury stemming from a crash at the Tour de San Luis. Santaromita has been ill with a fever for the last several days.

“They both played things cautious,” said Dean. “Conditions were a bit dangerous out there, and at this time of year, there wasn’t any reason to expose Pieter to any risk. Santa has been dealing with a fever for a few days, and he’s just getting back into things after taking it a bit easy.”

The action calmed down by the start of lap three. The break naturally returned to the bunch with the increase in tempo rather than a concerted chase. Albasini and the Yates brothers looked after Matthews as the sprint finish loomed.

“There was a small town before the long stretch of road that split up the race on the second lap,” Albasini said. “When we got to that place again, I said to the guys that we have to be with Bling in the front there in case it split again. I worked with the Yates brothers to bring him through the city in the front. After that, my job was done or I had no legs to do anything more. He was on his own in the sprint.”

“We’re working on things and tweaking things and everyone has their individual objectives inside the bigger plan,” added Stephens. “I think the second day was a success in terms of another box ticked. Sporting wise, we didn’t get a result, but we accomplished what we said we wanted to do.”