Michael Matthews Retains Green Jersey at La Vuelta

Fri 30 Aug 2013

Although Michael Matthews finished outside the top ten on stage seven of the Vuelta a España, he retained the points classification lead he assumed following stage six yesterday. Decked out in green from head to toe, Matthews enjoyed protection from his teammates within the bunch as ORICA-GreenEDGE squad hoped to set up the points leader for another stage win.

The Australian outfit assumed control of the race from the start until nearly the finish. They brought back an early break attempt they deemed dangerous before giving the nod to a three rider move that included Marco Pinotti (BMC), Christian Knees (Team Sky) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural).

“In the early part of the race, there was a breakaway of five riders that went clear,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “We decided that was a bit too big, so we brought that back. Another group of three went after, and we were okay with the size and the make-up of the move.”

“The gap went out beyond seven minutes,” Stephens added. “When a few other teams decided they wanted to collaborate, we got out on the front as well.”

Christian Meier assumed his usual position at the front of the bunch. The Canadian rotated with riders from Garmin-Sharp, Argos-Shimano, Omega Pharma-Quick-Step and Lampre Merida.

“Things were going really well with the chase,” said Stephens. “It was great to have other teams working with us. We timed bringing them back perfectly.”

Pinotti was the last man standing from the leading trio. The peloton swept him up 16km from the finish.

“We knew the last 15km were very dangerous and very technical,” noted Stephens. “We had a preview of the finish line when we entered the circuit. Julian Dean played his role in the recon. He had already seen the circuit and passed back information to us.”

“Our boys were on the front keeping the pace high,” Stephens continued. “We were well-positioned at 15km. All was going the way we wanted to until [Philippe] Gilbert and [Zdenek] Stybar attacked.”

With 8km left to race, Gilbert accelerated away from the bunch. Stybar jumped on his wheel, and the duo cooperated to extend their advantage. Although they never established a lead beyond 17”, the peloton was unable to close them down in the run-in to the finish.

“We had to use Baden Cooke and Leigh Howard to chase,” said Stephens. “Unfortunately, none of the other sprint teams helped us. We did what we could, but it wasn’t enough to bring those two back.”

“Coming into the final, Mitch [Docker] came to the front to start the lead out,” said Stephens. “Gilbert and Stybar were about 15” ahead at the point, so Mitch had to go earlier than planned. He went hard enough that he rode away from the rest of the field. He backed off a bit to get the boys back on his wheel but lost the momentum we needed to bring back the guys out front.” 

Gilbert opened the sprint and then pushed himself into Stybar’s slipstream when the Czech powered past him. The World Champion attempted to come around Stybar at the line. Bike throws and a photo finish determined Stybar had narrowly edged out Gilbert for the win. Robert Wagner (Belkin) won the bunch sprint for third ahead of Adrien Petit (Cofidis), 1” down on Stybar. Michael Matthews crossed the line in 14th place.

“We were riding for the stage win, so we’re obviously a little bit disappointed,” said Stephens. “I haven’t had a good chat Matthews yet, so I’m not sure if we caught out somehow or he wasn’t quite on today.”

“It’s great to have the green jersey for another day,” said Stephens. “We’re realistic about our chances of keeping it. It seems like the points competition will be won by climber, but it’s very well that Bling has it now. It’s great for him, the team and the sponsors for him to have some time on the podium even if it’s not a long term objective.”

Stephens believed he would be remiss not to mention his concern for the safety of his riders and the peloton at large given the nature of the finish of today’s stage.

“I understand that the organisers want drama,” said Stephens. “The finish today was dangerous not dramatic. I’m very familiar with this area of Spain. Sevilla is a wonderful, beautiful area. The Vuelta could do a better job with the route today to show off the city and keep the riders safe. There’s so many big, wide roads in this area that would showcase the city and the sport better than the chosen final did today. As a sport director, it pains me to see races won and lost on luck and crashes,”