Australian will now lead race on return to Italy
Michael Matthews' first full day in the pink jersey of Giro d'Italia leader was hardly uneventful, after he was entangled in a crash with 80 kilometres to go and then had to handle a split in the peloton in a very technical final kilometre.
In both situations the Orica-GreenEdge pro came through well, finally crossing the line 16th of the 32 riders in the front segment of the bunch. His lead on Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) of eight seconds remains intact, although the veteran Italian is now second overall after Matthews teammates did not find themselves on the right side of the split in the finish.
"The crash happened with about 80 kilometres to go when the road went from three lanes to two lanes," Matthews commented in a press conference. "The guys started moving around, things got a bit hectic because the wind was starting to pick up."
"Unfortunately I was just behind it [the crash] and I ended up over the top of it."
For most of the rest of the day, he was able to enjoy wearing his pink leader’s jersey and show it off to the crowds in slightly better weather than on stage two. "They were amazing, everybody was screaming for me. And I'm so happy I will be wearing the leader's jersey when the Giro reaches Italy on Tuesday."
Asked what he thought of his chances of outpowering Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) in the bunch sprints to come, if - following his strong defence of his lead during Sunday’s stage - there had been any rising speculation that Matthews might at some point be able to outgun the German, the former U-23 World Champion was quick to puncture it.
"When it starts to get a bit hilly it may take away a bit of his top end power, but on a flat stage he's pretty unbeatable at the moment. He's the fastest man in the world," Matthews said categorically.
Even so, Matthews spell in pink has garnered the Australian his highest profile in the pro scene since he took two stages of the Vuelta back in 2013. And - coupled with wins in the Vuelta al País Vasco and again in La Vuelta a la Rioja this spring - it confirms he is back on the right track as a pro, too.
"Things started really well with winning the World's in Melbourne then winning my first stage in a pro race in 2011 [in the Tour Down Under]," he reflected.
"But I sort of lost my way a little bit, it took me a little while to focus on things. The level [in professional cycling] is so high, you can't do any small thing wrong, you have to do everything perfectly. Doing that gets you that one or two percent more, and I'm doing all that 100 percent now, so I’m really happy with it."
For Orica-GreenEdge, having achieved their initial main goal of the team time trial win, every day Matthews or another team-mate spends in pink is an extra layer of icing on an already sizable cake.
"Our goal coming into the Giro was to do a really good team time trial. We were clear favourites coming into it," Matthews reflected, "and it's a lot better to get that victory as a team than a solo win because it brings the whole team spirit upwards. Now we want to keep the jersey as long as possible."
Things are going so well for Orica-GreenEdge in the Giro and in general this season, Matthews says, that "The atmosphere in the team is a bit surreal at the moment.... we're all just living a dream."
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