Giro d’Italia leader Michael Matthews had made a pre-race target of the uphill finish on stage 5 at Viggiano, and although finally the Australian had to settle for sixth, he nonetheless remains in the maglia rosa.
Matthews Orica-GreenEdge team had a hard day pulling back a very dangerous 11-man move containing Sky’s Ben Swift, who was 29 seconds behind Matthews before the stage, and then they then tried to keep the Australian in a good position at the front of the pack for as long as possible on the two final ascents to Viggiano.
The final outcome was that Matthews finished sixth and remains in the lead for a fourth straight stage, with teammate Pieter Weening, himself a former Giro leader, in second overall, 14 seconds back. Matthews is also at the head of the Best Young Rider competition.
"This stage definitely proved that we really deserved this jersey for the first few days of the Giro," Matthews told reporters afterwards.
"Today was the big goal for me, and to keep the jersey, to be able to have a good crack in the finale and deliver me in the right position after keeping up a really solid tempo all day shows what an amazing job my team has done. It was pretty nice to be there."
How long will he and Orica-GreenEdge try to "keep the pink ball rolling?" as Matthews succinctly put it? "My goal from the start was to keep it until tomorrow [the stage finish to Monte Cassino] and then re-assess. Tonight we’ll have a good look at how things stand."
"The next few stages are pretty key to keeping the maglia rosa, it’s been a good trip so far, and we’ll try to keep the pink ball rolling."
The final climb, he admitted, did not "quite end up in the way I thought it would. I had a picture [of how the stage would play out in the finale], I thought there would be a lot of attacks, but in fact I think everyone was pretty pinned."
"Finally it was [Nairo] Quintana (Movistar) who dropped a wheel in front of me, it was up to me to close the gaps on [Edvald] Boasson Hagen (Sky) and [Joaquim] Rodriguez (Katusha) when they got away [with about 400 metres to go] and when I got up to them I didn’t quite have the sprint I would have liked to have had for the final."
"That’s racing, though, I kept the pink jersey so it’s not so bad."
As Matthews continues to battle hard to defend his lead, to judge by Wednesday’s stage, another Australian, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) looked to be in a good position to battle for pink if and when the Orica-GreenEdge rider finally has to relinquish the top spot overall.
"He’s looking very strong," Matthews said, "I’m going for stages and I’m lucky to have the jersey right now. He’s a totally different rider, as he showed in Tour three years ago he can win three week races. He’s riding really well, and I think he’s going to do a really good GC in the Giro."