Michael Matthews recognised that he did not have the "right legs at the right time" to go for a third career stage win in the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, but he also said that he was lacking Sunweb teammates "deep into the final" and that made it impossible for him to get back on terms with the late attacker and stage winner Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates).
Matthews had been targeting the Agrigento uphill finish stage since before the Giro d'Italia began on Saturday. His seventh place in the recent World Championships, on a hilly course that did not suit him, showed his climbing form is sharply honed. But the Australian allrounder recognised that when Ulissi blasted off in the closing kilometre he "didn't quite have the legs" to go with the Italian and he was left settling for a lower result, ending up in fourth place.
Matthews, twice a winner of Giro d'Italia stages with the leader's jersey on his back - in 2014 when he won an even tougher finish in Monte Cassino and again in 2015 at Sestri Levante - said he was "around the front" on the final climb on Sunday but was shut out.
"When they attacked with just over a kilometre to go, I couldn't go with them. I was hoping they would drag it back, and I could have gone for a sprint," the Australian said.
"All the teams rode that final climb super fast, and when Ulissi attacked, we all knew that on a stage like today with a punchy finale he's going to be one of the best in the world," noted Matthews about the finish. "I think the race would have been better if it had been a bit longer, but it is what it is."
Matthews said that Ineos Grenadiers tried and failed to close the gap on Ulissi and the two other attackers, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikkel Honoré (Deceuninck-QuickStep). But he also expressed hopes that another time he would have his own Sunweb teammates at his side to help him bring attacks like that back.
For the future, Matthews said, "We should try and stay more together as a team on the final climb. I was hoping to have a few more guys there deep into the finale that could pace me back because on a finish like that, which is really explosive, it's always going to be difficult for me go with a guy like Ullisi.
"I was really hoping it would end up being a reduced bunch sprint and I'd have had a better chance."
Matthews was adamant, in any case, that "For sure I'll try again, it's only day one, it's not over yet. I think the form and the legs are good, and we'll fight every stage for the win."
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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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