Michael Matthews has laid down arms in the battle for the green jersey at the Tour de France, taking on the role of lead-out man as Team Sunweb backed Cees Bol in the stage 11 bunch sprint on Wednesday.
Matthews has finished in the top 10 on seven of the 10 road stages so far, placing second in Epernay on stage 3 and fourth in Saint Etienne and Albi on stages 8 and 10.
At the start of stage 11, he sat second in the points classification, which he won in 2017, trailing six-time green jersey winner Peter Sagan by 62 points.
However, he let any ambitions of a second maillot vert fade away on the road to Toulouse. Instead, he worked to set up Bol, the 23-year-old Dutchman who won Nokere Koerse earlier this year.
"It was the team's idea on the rest day - they came up with the idea, and it makes sense," Matthews explained in Toulouse after the stage. "It was just a little bit to switch off, try something diff, help the team, get rid of some green jersey points, so I can go in some breakaways.
"On a short, hectic stage like this, we thought it was good to give me a day off and give Cees a chance. He's a big guy for a stage like this - really a fast sprinters' sort of stage. I actually quite like doing a role like that, because, nine times out of 10, when a stage suits me I'm the leader.
"I show the team I'm willing to help them on a stage that suits them better than it suits me. That's what brings the team spirit up – one of the leaders dropping back and saying 'OK, now we ride for you today, you've done some really good work for me, so let's reverse the roles, have a bit of fun and mix it up a bit'."
Matthews did not contest the intermediate sprint on Wednesday and piloted Bol to the final kilometre in Toulouse, where the Dutchman placed eighth. As a result, Matthews slipped to fourth, 90 points adrift of Sagan.
The decision to give up on green was made in the hope he will enjoy the freedom to get into breakaways, having found himself tightly marked by Sagan on the road to Albi on Monday.
"I'm too close in the green jersey points for Sagan to let me go in breakaways, so in the end, we either have to keep fighting for the green jersey and give away stage wins, or we go for stage wins and give away the green jersey. It was a decision we had to make."
It can't have been an easy one to make, given he was perfectly poised should anything happen to Sagan. The Slovak has won green in six of the past seven editions of the Tour, and Matthews' win in 2017 came after he had been disqualified earlier in the race.
"I guess you can't plan for something like that to happen," Matthews said.
"In '17 I really prepared to fight for that green jersey. I'm not saying I was always going to win it, but I was going to fight all the way to Paris. My climbing legs were great, my sprinting legs were also good.
"Hopefully I can come back next year with the goal to go for green, like in 17, with a lot of planning around it."
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