Teamwork and altitude preparation key to his success
After finishing second an agonising five times this year, Michael Matthews finally chalked up his first win this season in the second stage of the Tour of Utah. In doing so, Matthews also moved himself into the overall lead.
Initiative and foresight saw Matthews place third in the final intermediate sprint of the stage in order to gain what would prove to be a very crucial one second time bonus. With overnight leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) coming in second in the stage behind Matthews, one second is now all that separates the young Australian from the on form Belgian.
"I've had a few opportunities this year that I haven't quite pulled off the way I would have wanted," said Matthews. "It seemed like I'm always getting second. It's really nice to get my first win for the team, especially when everyone worked so hard for me all day. To take the yellow jersey and the sprint jersey at the same time as my first win this year is really special."
Orica GreenEdge director Matt Wilson was confident the day would be an easy one for the team with BMC being forced to defend
"We expected today to go one of three ways," said Wilson. "A breakaway could go and the peloton would let them stay away, the guys racing the general classification could try to damage on the last climb, or, if BMC wanted to keep the jersey, they would ride the front and keep the race together for a sprint."
After Michael Hepburn unintentionally landed himself in the break of the day, the rest of the team played the waiting game as BMC went to the front to defend.
"It was not our job to take any responsibility for the day," said Wilson. "As it was, we got Hepburn in a little break. It wasn't a break we wanted, but he ended up out there anyway with one other rider. It ultimately worked out for us because we definitely didn't have any responsibility with a rider up the road."
But that responsibility soon shifted as the action heated up towards the end of the stage.
"It was a really difficult run in. There weren't a lot of other sprint trains to take control, so it was pretty much all on us at that point. BMC was spent from chasing all day,” said Wilson.
"Everyone was attacking," Wilson continued. "One of our guys would go to the front and take a massive pull to bring the race back together, and then another guy would attack hard, and we'd have to do it all over again. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) made the last significant move. Sam Bewley did a big turn to bring Zabriskie back inside the last kilometre."
With the team able to control the finale, Matthews finally delivered on the promise he has shown all season.
"The team did a perfect job to set me up," said Matthews. "I didn't have to touch the wind or make anymore effort than absolutely necessary until it was time to sprint. I wouldn't have won the stage without all their work."
Aside from a mix of team work and a well-timed sprint, Matthews believes his altitude preparation had a big hand in his victory today
"I felt a lot better today than yesterday," added Matthews. "I stayed at Brian Head for two weeks before the race started, so I adjusted to the time change and altitude before the race started. The team had a lot of confidence in me going into this tour, and they played all their cards for me again."
With no ambitions to hold the race lead, Matthews signalled his intentions to return to the top of the podium when the race visits Salt Lake City on Friday
"I think tomorrow will be a 'rest day' for us," said Matthews, with a smile. "We'll probably back it off on stage three and then ramp things up again for the crit in Salt Lake City on Friday."
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