Mixing it at the pointy end of the fast and frenetic stage 15 Tour de France sprint in Valance was further evidence that Michael Matthews is getting closer to top-from after suffering broken ribs in a first week crash. Having chanced his luck in the uphill sprint finish into Rodez a few days earlier, the 24-year-old was eighth for his best result in La Grand Boucle.
The Orica-GreenEdge rider had a few heated words with Cofidis' Christophe Laporte after rubbing elbows on the Boulevard John Fitzgerald Kennedy finish straight, explaining such tactics have no place in high-speed sprint finishes, particularly with his crash still fresh in the memory.
"It was just really crazy, a lot of people taking a lot of risks and I am not sure what they were trying to gain out of it when the top guys are already sitting in top position and these guys are sitting out in the wind trying to head-butt to try and get into good position," said Matthews who was freelancing in the finale with Orica-GreenEdge's lead-out train derailed by first week crashes.
"We don't have a proper lead out train here so it's up to me to follow these guys around in the sprint and try and get a free run at the final. I think with 500 metres to go I was really well positioned and lots of guys did crazy moves to wreck my sprint but in the end, it's racing. I have to learn from it and maybe look back at the replay and see what I could have done differently."
With the flat straight finish better suited to the characteristics of a pure sprinter such as stage winner André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Matthews added that the plan today was to hide from the headwind and follow wheels in the sprint rather than strike out in front alone.
"I think today was more of a finish about following probably the best sprinters, like your Degenkolb's and your Sagan's, and your Greipel's. Basically it's these three guys and the rest of the riders are trying to fight for their wheels and that's basically what I was doing today," Matthews told Cyclingnews of his approach to the stage.
Monday's 201km stage from Bourg-de-Péage to Gap is one that Matthews has been targeting since reconsidering his ambitions following the early crash. While unable to specify his current level due to the lingering effects of the crash, Matthews explained that regardless, he will give it his all for victory.
"It's hard to say really as one day I am good, one day I am bad. It seems I am not stable at the moment with my injuries so it's hard to say where I really am at this moment in time," he said. "I just have to keep pushing and trying really, there is nothing else I can really do.
"I had good legs today but bad legs yesterday so hopefully I can have good legs tomorrow but the way the pattern has been going it might be bad legs tomorrow. I just try and do everything I can tonight to prepare myself for tomorrow's stage.”