Michael Matthews Sprints to Second in Cedar City

Tue 6 Aug 2013

Michael Matthews was forced to settle for second in Cedar City on the first stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) caught the field off guard when he attacked inside the final kilometre. The Belgian managed to narrowly hold off the chasing field. Matthews won the bunch kick, on the same time of Van Avermaet, ahead of US U23 National Criterium Champion Ty Magner (Hincapie Sportswear Development Team).

“The finish didn’t go exactly to plan,” admitted Matthews. “We had to use most of the team to bring back the break today, so we didn’t have much a lead-out for the sprint. When Greg slipped away, there wasn’t anything we could do without a full lead-out to bring him back. In the end, I could only sprint for second.”

“Matthews is clearly the fastest guy here,” said Sport Director Matt Wilson. “That should give him a lot of confidence going forward. Of course, I don’t know if there will be another sprint day, but we know it’s a good opportunity for him if there is. He’s got some really good form at the moment, so he may surprise on another stage. Today was not our last chance. I still think our best shot is in Salt Lake City on Friday.”

The early action appeared to set the stage for a perfect scenario for the team’s tactics. All hands (and legs) were on board for Matthews in the projected bunch sprint. Chris Jones (Unitedhealthcare) and Michael Torckler (Bissell) slipped away from the bunch when neutral gave way to the official start. The duo quickly built up their advantage.

“It was perfect for us at the start,” said Wilson. “We wanted a small manageable group to go away that we could bring back fairly easily. When the two guys went into the break, everything was great as far as our planned was concerned.”

Jamis-Hagens Bergen initially set a steady tempo that held the leading duo to between seven or eight minutes. When their efforts wanted, the gap ballooned out to 10’30 and ORICA-GreenEDGE assumed duties at the head of the peloton.

“We didn’t expect the two guys out front to be so strong,” admitted Wilson. “We also didn’t anticipate how little help we’d get from the bunch. It was clearly all on our shoulders to chase. We got a little bit help from Jelly Belly, a very little help, and a little help from Jamis.”

It was baptism by fire for Damien Howson. The 20-year-old, who will join ORICA-GreenEDGE on a multi-year contract next year, is racing his first professional race as a stagiaire in Utah.

“Baden [Cooke] asked me to start to the ride the front with Tomas [Vaitkus] so that we could pull back the two that were up the road,” said Howson. “I think we went to the front after about 50 or 60km, and I stayed there until we made the catch 6km from the finish. We did a lot of work to bring back that break. It was a good introduction to what it’s like racing for the team.”

Ahead of the category four Mammoth Creek climb, the breakaway still had nearly six minutes over the peloton. Howson and Vaitkus, with help from Wesley Sulzberger and Sam Bewley, halved that gap on the slopes of the category three Bristlecone. From the final climb, it was downhill to Cedar City for three 4.7km circuit laps. Shortly before the start of the last lap, the peloton reabsorbed the break.

“When it come down to the final, we only had two guys there to help out Michael,” explained Wilson. “Van Avermaet jumped, and we didn’t have anyone to close the gap. We clearly had the fastest sprinter. BMC had a bit of a wildcard, and they played off our work. It’s very disappointing to finish second, especially off the back of the work all the guys did.”

“I’m happy with the way the team raced,” said Matthews. “They put it all on the line for me. I can’t ask for more than that from them.”