Michael Matthews Rounds Out the Podium on Stage Four of La Vuelta

Tue 27 Aug 2013

With Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard-Trek) off the front, Michael Matthews won the bunch sprint in Fisterra. His well-time acceleration was good for third place on stage four of the Vuelta a España.

“The boys put me in the perfect position to launch myself in the sprint,” said Matthews. “It’s unfortunate that Moreno and Cancellara snuck away in the final kilometre, but I won the sprint for third. My sprinting legs are good and my climbing legs are good, too. We’ll see in the next few days if we can go even better and get that stage win we’re all aiming for together.”

The Mirador de Ezaro, the only ranked climb on the undulating day, was the talk of the stage. The beast of a climb, coming 35km from the finish line, averages 13.1% over 1.8km with select sections as steep as 29%.

“Our entire plan was hinged around the Mirador de Ezaro,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “We needed to see how Gerro [Simon Gerrans] and Bling [Michael Matthews] would go over the climb and see what sort of teammates they had left at the top.”

“The whole day was pretty stressful,” admitted Matthews. “There was a lot of wind, and the roads were really open. There wasn’t much flat for the entire 190km. The team rode together well, and they did a great job keeping me and Gerro out of the wind. By the time we hit the bottom of the climb, I hadn’t touched the wind or put in much of an effort to maintain my position. I’m really happy with how the boys looked after me.”

The early escape group of five riders had stretched out their advantage beyond seven minutes at the mid-point of the stage. By the time the peloton hit the base of the Mirador de Ezaro, chase work done by Omega Pharma-Quick-Step and RadioShack Leopard Trek had reduced the advantage to less than one minute.

Gerrans, feeling the impact of his crash yesterday, lost contact with the reduced bunch over the leg-breaking slopes. Matthews managed to ride within himself to stay in touch with the shrinking front bunch.

“Gerro is feeling quite good all things considered,” said Stephens. “He’s still experiencing some pain, and he probably won’t feel his best for a few days. He knew he wasn’t up for the win today, so he backed off up the really difficult climb.”

“At the same moment that Gerro pulled the plug, Wes crashed on the climb,” added Stephens. “He has a lot of pain in his shoulder at the moment. He took the decision to finish the stage and managed to do that, but we need to take him to the hospital for x-rays to see if anything is broken.”

Although losing Gerrans and Sulzberger was far from ideal, Matthews was prepared to take his chances with the support of his remaining teammates.

“I got over the climb in the front group of around 30 riders,” said Matthews. “It was hard but it wasn’t quite as hard as they made it out to be. From there, another 40 or so riders caught us on the descent, and that was the group that contested the finish.”

“Clarkey [Simon Clarke] and Christian [Meier] were with Bling over the top of the climb,” Stephens added. “Baden [Cooke] made it back to them on the descent. The four of them went to the final together.”

With Cannondale, Astana and RadioShack-Leopard-Trek behind him, Meier set a fast pace on the coastal road leading to the uphill finish. Five kilometres from the line, he swung off the front, work complete, and left Matthews in Cooke and Clarke’s capable hands.

As the road kicked up, Cooke and Clarke delivered Matthews to the head of affairs. Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) launched the first attack. Moreno countered the move, flying past Flecha, and narrowly held on to take the stage win. Cancellara accelerated in pursuit of Moreno and had a small gap on Matthews, who led the reduced bunch home

“We’re happy with how we rode in the finish,” said Stephens. “Matthews did a great sprint. There were two off the front, but he basically won the bunch sprint. As far as that goes, the sprint went well. It’s just too bad people popped off the front before the line.”

“The team is really amped about the work we’re doing together,” said Matthews. “Everyone is doing their job to achieve the team goals, and it’s awesome to see that sort of commitment. Each day, I’m learning something new. I know I still have a lot to learn, and there’s no better way than racing one of the biggest races in the world with my teammates.”

INJURY UPDATE: Wesley Sulzberger was taken to hopsital following stage four. X-rays revealed a broken collarbone and small elbow fracture. The decision was taken to withdraw him from the Vuelta. He will be a non-starter tomorrow. 

"I was in a good position before the start of the climb," said Sulzberger. "There were barriers at the start, and a BMC rider in front of me almost hit the barrier. He tail-whipped his bike and braked heavily to avoid crashing. I dodged the barrier and was about to hit the BMC rider. Instead, I braked to avoid riding into him and went up and over my handlebars. Leigh Howard stopped to help me get my bar straightened out, and we set off up the climb together."

"I haven't broken anything before," he added. "It was painful, but I didn't want to give up if it wasn't broken. When I saw [the x-ray] I understood what had happened and that I wouldn't be starting tomorrow. I also have a very small fracture in my elbow."

"I'm extremely disappointed," Suzlberger continued. "I had so much to offer the team at this Vuelta, and it has been my season objective to arrive here in top form."