Michael Matthews Sprints to Fourth in Spirited Paris-Nice Stage Four Finale

Wed 12 Mar 2014

Michael Matthews proved quickest of the reduced bunch, leading home a chase group of 26 riders on the fourth stage of Paris Nice. With three riders up the road, Matthews’ sprint was good for fourth place. Tom Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) bested late race breakaway companion Geraint Thomas (Sky) to win the nail-biter of a finale. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) placed third at 5” after attacking the chase group and narrowly holding his chasers off to the line.

Four categorised climbs in the final 70 kilometres set the scene for a hotly contested battle on stage four. The early breakaway formed inside the opening 20 kilometres with four riders slipping up the road. The quartet gained a maximum advantage of six minutes before Giant-Shimano set a pace that would steadily reduce the gap.

Team Sky assumed control at the front when the race reached the hills. The British squad’s efforts pegged back the break with 17 kilometres remaining, three kilometres from the start of the day’s last climb. The peloton began to split on the lower slopes of the final ascent, the Col du Mont Brouilly.

With the summit of the category two climb situated 14 kilometres from the finish line, it was always highly probable that the race winning move would take shape on its slopes. Slagter attacked the reduced bunch near the summit. Thomas jumped to respond, making contact on the technical descent. The peloton shattered in their wake.

The break benefited from a lack of cohesion in the chase group, which started with only four riders but swelled to include 27 ahead of the finish. Matthews was the lone ORICA-GreenEDGE representative in the group after losing Jens Keukeleire and Simon Yates over the upper slopes of Col du Mont Brouilly. Without teammates, Matthews opted to save his energy for the finish rather than taking charge of the chase.

Sport Director Laurenzo Lapage answered questions about the action-pack day of racing below. Read on

Q: What was the team’s plan for today?

We knew the last climb was hard and we hoped to get over it with numbers. After that, we wanted to use our numbers to set up something for Bling. The plan worked, and we came close again to another top result.

Q: How did the early action unfold from a team perspective?

We didn’t go into the early break because we needed as many riders as possible to assure the guys that were meant to stay with Bling on the last climb were in a good position at the bottom. We knew that a lot of teams had an interest in this stage, so it wasn’t worth it to waste energy in the break.

Q: When Slagter launched his attack over the last hill who did we have left in that group?

We had Jens Keukeleire and Simon Yates still with Bling at that point.

Q: What to Bling have to say about the finish?

The group split and Bling was on his own in a group of about 20 riders. A lot of the other scrappy sprinter types were alone, too. The group had a hard time working together, and because of this, Slagter and Thomas stayed away. If the group had more cooperation, it would have been a sprint – and we’re confident Bling could have won it.

Q: What's the overall sentiment of the team after two more successful days of racing compared to the first two stages where there as a lot of bad luck?

The boys are working well together and we can see in our results that it works for us. The first two days we had bad luck with crashes at the finish, but we know we were riding well as a team. We have the feeling that this teamwork will be rewarded in the next stages.