Michael Matthews Sprints to Maiden Grand Tour VictoryWed 28 Aug 2013
Michael Matthews outsprinted Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) to the finish line in Lago de Sanabria to claim his maiden grand tour stage victory in his grand tour debut. The 22-year-old won stage five of the Vuelta a España in magnificent fashion, finishing off the chase work and pace-setting done by his teammates during the last two hours of the 168.4km stage.
“I crossed the finish line, and I was happy right away,” said Matthews. “After a few moments, it sunk in what I had really done. A few tears came out after that. This is the biggest win of my career. The team was super impressive today. They did their job perfectly so I could do mine.”
“All of our work was calm, calculated and precise,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “Each member of our team did the work he was assigned. Everyone did their bit, and they all played an important role in Michael’s win. It was a collective effort today.”
The early breakaway put up a fierce fight. Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Jurgen Van de Walle (Lotto Belisol), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ.fr) and Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) slipped the stranglehold of the field 8km from the start. The quintet built up a healthy buffer of 10’25 before ORICA-GreenEDGE joined forces with Garmin-Sharp to signal the start of the chase.
“We began the day knowing we were a very important person down,” said Stephens. “We lost Wesley Sulzberger to a broken collarbone yesterday, and without him, everyone had to do a bit more work. Because of this, we started going for the early attacks in an attempt to lighten that load.”
“Today could have gone two ways, and we have guys that could pull off the win with either scenario,” added Stephens. “The break could have stayed away, and a number of our riders can win from a break. We also have Matthews who is quick enough to pull it off in the bunch finish. When we didn’t get into the break, we committed to riding for the win with Matthews in the sprint.”
Christian Meier assumed responsibility for the early chase. Sixty kilometres from the finish, the Canadian began to trade pull with his former Garmin-Sharp team to reduce the leader’s advantage.
“We had Christian on the front from the start of the chase,” explained Matthews. “Together with two Garmin guys, he rode the ten minute gap back to four minutes. He was really impressive today.”
Although Meier’s work had more than halved the gap between the five leaders and the peloton, the team called in reinforcements in the final 30km. Simon Clarke, Baden Cooke, Simon Gerrans and Sam Bewley dutifully made their way to the front of the bunch to close down the break.
“We used Gerro, Cookie, Clarkey and Bewley in the chase,” said Matthews. “Leigh [Howard] and Mitch [Docker] saved themselves for the lead-out. The rest of the team was on the front going full gas to bring back the break and keep me safe.”
“These are guys that I’ve grown up looking up to during my whole career,” Matthews added. “To see them riding on the front for me puts a tear in the eye.”
The break showed no signs of slowing over the category three Alto do Covelo, and their collaboration continued on the descent. They entered the final 20km with a 2’16 advantage over their chasers.
“The beauty about being the guy for the sprint is that I didn’t have to worry about the chase,” Matthews explained. “My job was to follow the wheels in front of me and keep my mind clear and focused on my job at the end of the stage. The team’s job was to bring back the break. I trusted them to do their job, and they trusted me to do mine.”
“I didn’t have to pay any attention to the gaps or the chase work,” Matthews continued. “I focused on every possible scenario I could image for the sprint. Here’s what I would do if I had a lead-out. Here’s what I would do if I didn’t have a lead-out. That sort of thing.”
Inside the final 10km, the break fractured. Just shy of the 3km mark, Courteille and Van de Walle, the last two riders standing from the early move had rejoined the bunch.
Argos-Shimano and Omega Pharma-Quick-Step readied their sprint trains as Matthews was forced to make due without a full lead-out due to the chase work done by his team. He patiently bided his team as the trains jostled for position and remained calm when Philippe Gilbert (BMC) accelerated away from the field inside the final kilometre.
“I had a hint that Gilbert was going to make that move,” noted Matthews. “I was expecting it. I think he thought the final would be more uphill, but it was a flat sprint. It wasn’t hard enough for a move like that. He came back pretty quickly because of the lead-outs going from Quick-Step and Argos. I had a clear line in the end to open my sprint and show my sprinting legs to the world.”
Matthews hit the front around the 200 metre mark, and once on the front, he handily held off his challengers.
“When I was on the podium, I noticed there were a fair few Aussies in the crowd,” said Matthews. “Winning a Grand Tour stage is great; climbing onto the podium on the other side of the world to celebrate that win and having people from home there to cheer you on is really something special.”
“It’s super awesome for the team to have a win already on stage five,” Matthews added. “We have a lot of potential on a lot of the coming stages. I think this is just the beginning for us.”