Michael Matthews' words ahead of the start in Imola proved unfortunately prescient for his Orica-GreenEdge team on stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia to Monte Berico. "It's a really nice finish but hopefully it stays dry because it looks like it's going to rain. It could be quite a hectic final," he said.
And so it proved, as his teammate Simon Gerrans was a faller in the finale on the treacherous descent of the Crosara, which – like the nearby Zovo at the 1998 Giro – was turned into something of a skating rink by the rain that fell steadily over the Veneto for much of the afternoon.
Indeed, up front, lone escapee Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) perfectly mimicked Pavel Tonkov's understandable nervousness in a similar position 16 years ago, as he unclipped on a couple of corners and performed near acrobatics just to stay upright.
Moments later, however, Gerrans had no such good fortune, as his wheels slipped from under him on a sweeping bend. Although the Australian was able to remount and finish, his Orica-GreenEdge team announced afterwards that his Giro had come to an end. He will not start stage 13 as a matter of precaution.
"It's obviously really disappointing for Simon today," directeur sportif Matt White said. "There hasn’t been much time for medical staff to assess too deeply yet but the good news is that whilst it is sore it looks to be just some skin off."
Matthews and the Tour de France
Gerrans had been the man delegated to lead Orica-GreenEdge's challenge on stage 12, rather than Matthews, who – refreshingly – was willing to admit to his personal disappointment while pledging his support to his teammate ahead of the stage. "I'm very disappointed, but it's the team’s plan," Matthews said. "I think it suits me really well but the team's decided to go with Simon Gerrans."
Matthews eventually finished the stage in 32nd place, after losing contact as the pink jersey group broke up on the final haul up to Monte Berico.
The 24-year-old is aware that he is fast running out of chances to add to his running tally of one stage victory on this Giro, with the race finally set to enter the high mountains on the road to Madonna di Campiglio on Sunday. The problem is compounded by the fact that the general classification battle has already spilled onto terrain more amenable to Matthews – and Gerrans, for that matter – over the first two weeks of racing.
"They're trying to take all the stages from us and we haven't had many opportunities to go for the final sprint in this Giro so we've got to take them when we can get them," Matthews said.
"I don't think there's that many left and we haven't had that many up to now either. It hasn't been that great for a rider like me when the stages look really good for a rider like me but unfortunately the GC teams have decided they want to take all the stages from us."
Matthews is pencilled in for a belated Tour de France debut this year – cruelly, injury forced him out on the eve of the 2014 Grand Départ in Leeds – and he admitted that his own Giro could come to a premature halt as he balances the dwindling opportunities in Italy with his preparations for July.
"I'm starting to get a little bit tired from trying to go for each stage so from here on it's just day by day," Matthews said. "You've got to give yourself enough time to recover and then to build up again for the Tour. You need a good week of recovery and then a few weeks to build up again for a race like the Tour. And it's not only for your body it's for your head as well – it's good to have a chill period in between. Whether it's this week I pull out or whether I finish the Giro depends on my head, really."
Between the Giro and the Tour, meanwhile, Matthews will likely see action at the Tour de Suisse, given that Orica-GreenEdge will not be on hand at his preferred preparation race, the Tour of Slovenia, this season. "I haven't done this preparation before, because I've normally done the Tour of Slovenia, but the team's doing to the Tour of Korea at that time," he said. "So I'll do the Tour de Suisse."
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