Two in the Top Fifteen on Penultimate Paris-Nice StageSat 15 Mar 2014
ORICA-GreenEDGE's Michael Matthews narrowly missed out on the top ten on stage seven of Paris-Nice. The Australian was present near the front of the reduced bunch over the final two circuit laps and showed his face on the run-in toward the finish. Inside the final half-kilometre, Matthews was unable to respond to the accelerations as the stage contenders dashed towards the line. He faded to 12th place, on the same time as stage winner Tom Jelte Slagter (Garmin Sharp). Simon Yates finished three spots further back in 15th place.
“The objective today was to get Bling up for a good result on the stage,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “We wanted to put him in the best position possible before the circuit. This meant we needed to have enough troops left in the final if we had to take control. The goal was to give Bling as easy of a run as possible.”
“Bling was a bit down on himself after the finish,” McPartland added. “It’s the second day in a row where he ran out of legs just at the end. The thing is – from our perspective, he did a great job today. We asked Bling to focus on using the team as much as possible. He’s still learning what that means in all sorts of scenarios. He did a really good job in that respect today. He got all the little details right, he just didn’t come up with it physically in the last 300 metres.”
The early breakaway formed quickly with Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing) sparking the initial move of six. The group quickly stretched out their advantage beyond the four minute mark. Brice Feillu (Bretage-Séché Enbironnement) was one of four riders who deemed the move a potential winner and took on the task of bridging across to the leaders. Because Feillu began the stage at just over a minute behind race leader Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), his bridge attempt was Ag2r La Mondiale’s cue to chase.
Three of the four chasers made it across, and the escape group swelled to include nine. With the gap shrinking, Feillu was forced out of the move. The peloton gave the breakaway a slightly longer leash until bringing them back 40 kilometres from the finish.
The counter-attacks began immediately following the catch, marking the start of an animated final hour of racing. Eventually the overall contenders came to fore on the last of two laps of the finish circuit. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) would go on to crash out of contention as Slagter chased down an attack from Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) and held off a fast-closing Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) to take his second stage win.
“We had several guys on the mark when we hit the circuit,” McPartland said. “By the last lap, it was only Bling and Yates. They both did a fantastic job to stay toward the front of that group and keep themselves out of trouble.”
“The focus was on Bling and his result today, but another positive of the day was the very impressive Simon Yates,” McPartland. “The circuit today was bloody hard – it reminded me of the sort of circuit we would see at the World Championships. Simon’s a neo-pro doing his first WorldTour race, and he’s not intimidated one bit.”
“We’ve had seven solid days of racing,” McPartland added. “Every single day, the guys get off the bike and say: ‘Man, that was hard.’ “ It’s exciting to see a guy as green as Simon handle himself so well in such long, hard days of racing.”
Matthews has been battling saddle sores throughout the duration of Paris-Nice. He will not start the final stage of the French tour tomorrow, withdrawing as a precautionary measure in view of future goals.