In Genoa on Sunday afternoon, Michael Matthews’ glass seemed only half-full. True, the Orica-GreenEdge rider had moved into the overall lead of the Giro d’Italia but the most valuable currency for a sprinter is victory and seventh place in the bunch finish at the end of stage 2 had left the Austalian feeling somewhat short-changed.
In Sestri Levante 24 hours later, Matthews proved himself to be full value for his maglia rosa as he edged out Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) in the sprint at the end of a nervous day of racing in Liguria. As he took his seat in the press centre after his podium duties, Matthews was asked if his pink jersey felt more valuable now that he had added the stage 3 victory to his haul.
“We were happy as a team to take the pink jersey in the team time trial and I was lucky to take the pink jersey yesterday from Simon Gerrans,”Matthews said. “Today was really special. It was a confidence boost to put on the pink jersey this morning and then the team worked 110 per cent for me and it was a nice feeling to finish it off with the stage win.”
Too difficult for the pure sprinters and not quite selective enough for the puncheurs, the 136-kilometre leg from Rapallo to Sestri Levante seemed perfectly-suited to a rider of Matthews’ characteristics, and so it proved, even if the stage didn’t quite follow the preordained script.
“We expected a hard day because we’d gone to recon the last 80 kilometres of this stage last Wednesday when we arrived at the Giro, and we didn’t really want such a big group to go away,” Matthews said.
Some 25 riders forged clear early in the stage but with Simon Clarke and Esteban Chaves both aboard and policing the move, Orica-GreenEdge was not obliged to spend a wearying day working on the front of the race. “In the end that probably worked out in our favour because we had two of our really good climbers in the move and I had a lot of confidence in them because they could win the stage or take the pink jersey,” Matthews said.
The efforts of Tinkoff-Saxo were an additional aid, as they worked diligently on the front in the final 50 kilometres in the service of Alberto Contador and helped to snuff out the late move triggered by Katusha’s Pavel Kochetov. “It turned out better than we had planned for the day,” Matthews said.
Last year, Orica-GreenEdge’s team time trial victory in Belfast kick-started an opening week that saw Matthews win a stage at Montecassino and hold the maglia rosa for six days, and Pieter Weening triumph at Sestola for good measure. Despite those achievements, however, Matthews wondered if the Australian squad had fully punched its weight at the 2014 Giro. The addition of Simon Gerrans to this year’s line-up for the corsa rosa certainly provides an additional option in the tough days to come in Liguria and Tuscany.
“We all have very fond memories of 2014, when we held the jersey for a week but maybe we could have achieved more,” Matthews said. “We wanted to come here all guns blazing and we all have super confidence in each other. We don’t have one allocated leader, we just work for whoever is best-suited to each stage, and we have a lot of different riders who can do something here.”
The one rider missing from Orica-GreenEdge’s roster, here and throughout the year, is a top-level general classification contender over three weeks, though one of the Giro favourites was able to benefit from Matthews and the team’s largesse on Monday afternoon. “Richie Porte’s a really good friend of mine and I let him ride in front of me in the bunch today so he didn’t have to fight for positon,” Matthews said.
As ever when the Giro visits the sweeping roads of the Riviera, it was a rather fraught afternoon, and Matthews had a first-person view of the crash on the descent of the Barbageleta that ended Domenico Pozzovivo’s race prematurely. “It breaks your heart to see that,” Matthews said.
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