Michael Matthews capped off his successful week at the Tour of Utah by claiming the overall sprint jersey in addition to the two stage wins he already had to his name. Starting the final stage just three points shy of overnight leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Matthews took matters into his own hands by bridging to the early break and taking out both intermediate sprints on the stage.
"We thought there was a good chance the bunch would still be together for the first intermediate sprint," noted Orica-GreenEdge director Matt Wilson. "The break went earlier than we anticipated but Matthews managed to get himself across with Cookie ."
"The first sprint was 32km into the race," explained Matthews. "If I won the sprint and Greg didn't get any points, I'd move into the lead. I saw an opportunity to go across to the break with a couple of riders. I made it to the break, and I won the first sprint from there. I think we took BMC by surprise a little bit when I got into the move."
The category one climbs of Wolf Creek Ranch and hors category Empire Pass awaited as the bunch started to close in on the break. Matthews decided things were getting a little close for comfort so the Australian rider took hold of the break, ensuring they would stay away so he could win the second intermediate sprint.
"I knew I had the jersey as long as Greg didn't beat me in the second sprint or take points at the finish," said Matthews. "I got a bit stressed after the first sprint when the time started to come down between the breakaway and the bunch. I was a little worried the advantage would get small enough that Greg could jump across, so I pushed the breakaway to consolidate our gap before the second intermediate sprint. In hindsight, I probably should have saved a little bit of energy for Empire Pass."
With the jersey in the bag Mathews then put all his energy into staying away for the win.
"There were a few accelerations in the break before it was just me and [Francisco] Mancebo at the bottom of Empire Pass," said Matthews. "He attacked, and I was the only one that could follow. I rode with him for maybe one kilometre, but I decided I wanted to ride my own pace. I attacked him and got away alone. I lasted about three-quarters of the way up before it became too much."
As the realisation sunk in that the opportunity for another stage victory had passed, Matthews began to rue leaving so much energy out on the road.
"Knowing what I know now about the stage, I'm a bit disappointed to miss out on the stage win," admitted Matthews. "I really went for it. I would have had a better chance if I had sat on the break and saved more energy for the last climb, but if I had done that, maybe Greg could have jumped across to us by himself and tried to take the sprint jersey off of me again."
Hindsight is definitely a wonderful thing. And although Matthews is not upset with 'only' securing the sprint jersey, it will remain a matter of 'what if' as he continues to ponder alternate scenarios for how Stage 6 could have played out.
"It was a bit of gamble after the first sprint," Matthews continued. "I could have saved it for the stage or committed everything to the sprint jersey. Because the team decided to focus on the jersey as our main ambition, I put all my energy there. I wish I had tried to save more for that last climb."
For Matthews, nonetheless, it's definitely a case of mission accomplished at Tour of Utah
"I didn't expect to come out of the Tour of Utah with two stage wins, one podium and the points jersey," he said. "I've been training well leading up to this. I have a fair big races coming up, so it's a good time to be on good form. My mid-season training has been really good this year; it's been better than in the last few years. I knew I was strong, but I didn't know I had good race form. Hopefully I keep improving from here.
"We're definitely glad we came to Utah," he continued. "We'll happily be back next year."