Michael Matthews Sprints to Second in Santa ClaritaTue 14 May 2013
Baden Cooke began to raise his hands in celebration. The last lead out man for Michael Matthews, Cooke had dropped the team’s sprinter off in perfect position with a clear run to the line. Matthews looked set to secure his first Amgen Tour of California stage victory. Cooke was delighted.
Satisfaction turned to disappointment when Peter Sagan (Cannondale) blasted from behind to overtake Matthews just before the finish. Cooke’s raised hands dropped. Matthews shook his head. They had been so close.
"It was a fantastic effort by the team," said Sport Director Matt Wilson. "Obviously, we have a smaller crew here. We lost two riders to the heat on the first day. The remaining riders worked well together today. They did a great lead out for Bling [Matthews]. Cookie [Cooke] said he dropped Bling off at the perfect point. Sagan just managed to get over the top of him before the line.”
“Sagan might have been faster on the day, but Bling gave him a run for his money,” Wilson added. “We have to feel good about that.”
While ORICA-GreenEDGE was fully committed to Matthews in the sprint finish, their attention was divided on the undulating roads between Palmdale and Santa Clarita. Cameron Meyer started stage three in tenth overall, and the team was intent in helping him maintain his general classification position while also looking after Matthews.
“It was a windy day with several crosswind sections,” said Wilson. “The wind made the stage dangerous for the overall. We had to work for Cam and Bling today. It got hairy there a couple times.”
Shortly after the official start had been given, a group of more than 20 riders slipped away from the peloton. The Meyer brothers and Cooke made the split. The WorldTour teams were well-represented in the selection with Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Mick Rogers (Saxo Tinkoff), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), and Jens Voigt (RadioShack Leopard Trek) amongst the many escapees. The group opened up a one minute advantage before the peloton brought them back into their fold.
Shortly after the catch, Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard Trek) initiated what would become the day’s break. He was joined by Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), Chad Beyer (Champion System) and Gavin Mannion (Bontrager). Although the field gave the quartet their blessings, they never allowed them to stretch the gap much beyond the five minute mark. Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, Cannondale and Garmin Sharp did the bulk of the chase work over the four category four climbs that peppered the route.
The peloton swept up the breakaway inside the final 20 kilometres with Mannion the first to fall of the pace. Beyer, the last man standing, was caught 13.5 kilometres from the finish line. The projected sprint seemed inevitable as the peloton powered towards the finish.
ORICA-GreenEDGE came to the front at the four kilometre mark. The usual jostling for position gave the impression of a chaotic sprint, but Matthews’ train was calm and steady. Cooke took the last turn before pulling off at the 150 metre mark. Matthews opened his sprint and looked set to lead the field over the line until Sagan shot out of the bunch to take his ninth stage victory in California.
“Tomorrow is another day for Bling,” said Wilson. “We’ll try again. The finish isn’t as easy as it looks on the profile. There’s lots of up and down with twists and turns along the coast. It definitely suits him.”