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Matthews extends lead at Vuelta a Espana

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Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) in the red leader's jersey

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) in the red leader's jersey (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) maintains his lead at the Vuelta a España

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) maintains his lead at the Vuelta a España (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) wears the red jersey at the start of stage 4

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) wears the red jersey at the start of stage 4 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) continues as race leader of the Vuelta a Espana for a second day after he successfully battled his way over the two final climbs and then netted a more than respectable third place. But could it have been more? It's impossible to say, although Matthews complained his chances of fighting for the stage win had been affected by his not getting a clear run at the finish line.

Matthews admitted it had been a tough day, with - if the extreme heat was not enough - attacks by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the finale, a fast assault of the third and second category climbs and an all-out small bunch sprint of some 65 riders all combining to add to the stage's difficulty.

The Australian was initially placed where he needed to be in the finale, but he told TV stations that as a result of riders blocking his path at the last second he had not been able to make it a real duel between himself and stage winner John Degenkolb.

"My team were awesome today, they did really well for me," Matthews said at the finish, "they put me in the right position there, but it was a little bit hectic in the final there."

The Australian was not given the little extra space for manouvre that leaders in Grand Tours sometimes enjoy in unwritten recognition of their status, Matthews - who led the Giro earlier this year - said "I was a bit surprised, I thought the leader's jersey would get a little more respect, but there's not much respect in this peloton."

He had, he said, expected Degenkolb to be a dangerous rival in the bunch sprints "because he's obviously climbing well and I knew it would be a drag race between me and him for the win."

"But a couple of guys got between him and me in the last few hundred metres, so I didn't quite get to contest him for the win."He paid tribute to Degenkolb's racing, though, saying "it was a great victory for him."

After his victory at Arcos de la Frontera, 24 hours later Matthews said, "It was a course which suited me, and I'd have liked to have done the double today but that's racing. The bonus is keeping the red for another day."

Australians have rarely impacted on the GC in the Vuelta a España - Evans' third place in the 2009 Vuelta is their best overall result to date - but curiously enough, Matthews is not the only rider from Down Under to have led the Vuelta into Cordoba.

In 2005, Bradley McGee - now Australia's national road coach - moved into the head of the classification after he took second in Cordoba behind Leonardo Bertagnolli, a result which meant he became the first ever Australian ever to take the lead in all three Grand Tours. McGee defended the Vuelta lead for a further three days. It remains to be seen if Matthews, now two days in the red, can finally equal that total, or perhaps even improve on it.

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, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.