After a superb Giro d'Italia this May followed by a training crash ending his hopes of making a Tour de France debut, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) continued his rollercoaster season with an emphatic Vuelta a Espana stage win on Monday and the leader's jersey to boot.
Matthews timed his effort perfectly on the 1.8-kilometre uphill finish climb at Arcos de la Frontera, completing the course by coming around Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) to claim his fourth win of the season. He is also the first Australian leader of the Vuelta since Cadel Evans back in 2009.
Matthews was lying eighth at six seconds prior to stage 2 thanks to Orica-GreenEdge's strong team time trial, and as one of the favourites for stage 3, he had asked his team to work hard for the stage win.
"I can't ask for much more, we were the favourites to win in the final, and we had to use all my guys to bring the break back. They rode so hard I don't think all of them have finished yet," ‘Bling', as he is nicknamed, said afterwards.
"They put me perfectly in position, it would not be possible without them. [Chris] Froome (Team Sky) and [Dan] Martin (Garmin-Sharp) were chasing hard and I got on his [Martin's] wheel and came over him in the final. It was a 110 percent effort. We delivered it as we planned."
Asked if he had built his season around doing so well in two Grand Tours - leading in the Giro as well as taking a stage win on Monte Cassino - then winning in the Vuelta, Matthews said he had not started the season aiming to race in Italy and Spain.
"To be honest, when the year started, I didn't know I was doing the Giro or the Vuelta. The plan was just to do the Tour, but now the back-up plan was perhaps even better than what the Tour could have been."
"Everything happens for a reason, you get smashed down sometimes and it's not the end of the world if you have a bad crash, and you have to believe in your training to come back stronger."
The winner of two stages in the Vuelta last year - his first in a Grand Tour - Matthews says has has no idea how long he can keep the jersey. "I haven't looked too far ahead, hopefully I didn't use up all my energy on today's stage. We wanted stage wins for me, we didn't plan on getting the red jersey too, so from now on everything is a bonus."
"We've got our GC rider, Esteban Chaves" - just 17 seconds back, in sixth place overall - "and our climber, Adam Yates, so hopefully there'll be more stage wins and success to come."
Matthews earned some notable praise from former Rabobank team-mate Oscar Freire, now retired but commentating for a Spanish radio station, COPE, on the Vuelta.
"He's a great rider, and after all that work the team deserved the win today," the former triple World Champion said. "Whilst it's not easy for him in big bunch sprints, in hard uphill stages like today's, he really does well."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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