Paris-Nice: Matthews defends overall lead with bonus seconds in Vendôme

'It would be nice to win a stage but the jersey was the main focus,' says Orica-GreenEdge rider

The second day at Paris-Nice was a mighty challenge with wintery weather, dirt roads and punchy climbs, but Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) managed to finish in the reduced front group and hang onto the yellow overall leader’s jersey for another day.

"It was a hard day all day," Matthews said in a team press release. "I'm glad we had a super strong Orica-GreenEdge team today to take care of the race and bring back the four escapees. The main focus today was on defending the jersey.”

Matthews won the event's opening prologue to take the first leader's jersey on Sunday, and went into stage 1's 198km race with one second over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and two seconds on Patrick Bevin (Cannondale).

The stage was a challenge for all the riders with snow falling and wind gusts ripping through the peloton. Beginning in Condé-sur-Vesgre, a breakaway of four escaped and built a 10-minute lead. Orica-GreenEdge set a pace that reduced the gap before Etixx-QuickStep, Tinkoff and Sky moved to the front ahead of the challenging finish circuits that included dirt sections and a climb over Côte du Chemin du Tertre de la Motte.

Matthews picked up bonus seconds through the second intermediate sprint line in Vendome, bulking up his lead by two additional seconds with one circuit to go.

"It would be nice to win a stage, but the jersey was the main focus. It's great to hold it for one more day, especially as I managed to take two seconds in the last intermediate sprint.”

Matthews could only manage fifth in the stage, behind Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Ben Swift (Sky), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Adrien Petit (Direct Energie). He might have played more of a factor in the final sprint but he said the circuit was tougher than he thought.

"The final lap was tougher than I expected," Matthews said. "I saw that some of the general classification guys were up there so I had to make the effort to chase them. Maybe it took away some of my energy for the sprint."

Orica-GreenEdge director Laurenzo Lapage said his riders will try and defend the jersey during Tuesday's 213.5km stage 2 from Contres – Commentry.

"Tomorrow is a bit hiller so again we will control and try to keep the jerseys. I am sure we will have some help from other teams again controlling the race," Lapage said in a team press release.

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