Former U-23 world champion Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) took his maiden Grand Tour stage on Wednesday in what was an extremely tough bunch sprint finish at Lago de Sanabria on stage 5 of the Vuelta a España.
Just 22 and taking part in his first Grand Tour, Matthews took his first WorldTour win as far back as 2011, in the Tour Down Under. But after wins in the Clásica Almeria – one of Spain’s last surviving one-day races – and stage victories in the Tour of Utah in both 2012 and 2013, Matthews win in the Vuelta represents a big step up for the young Australian pro.
The victory itself was not at all easy, coming at the end of a technically challenging final few kilometres, a stage with a lot of climbing and to cap it all a very fast final hour as Garmin-Sharp and Orica-GreenEdge raised the pace dramatically to pull in a very dangerous five-man breakaway.
“It’s the first Grand Tour I’ve ever done so I wasn’t expecting this win, but I was hoping for something here,” said Matthews, nicknamed Bling after turning up at a track race as a teenager adorned in a large selection of gold jewellery.
“I knew I had the form, but it’s one thing having the form and another being able to win and that takes a lot of devotion form the team and that hard work was exactly what they did today.
“20 other guys could have won today, but I was lucky to be in the right position and I had the legs to finish it off.”
Matthews singled out Julian Dean, who gave the team a very detailed breakdown of what was a dauntingly difficult finish as being another key to his success. “He told us exactly what to expect, and knowing that in advance was invaluable,” Matthews said. “Without that we would have been riding blind and I don’t think I would have won today.
“Then it was the boys [team-mates] who put me in the right place, and this win is for them for sure.”
If Chris Horner’s victory on stage three was a win for the older generation of riders like the 41-year-old American, two days later the victory honours went to a rider 19 years Horner’s junior and who is understandably yet to define what kind of sprinter he will be in the future.
“For now I can win pretty much any kind – uphill, flat, whatever. So whatever happens I don’t see any point of classifying myself as any particular kind of sprinter,” Matthews said. “I’m 22 so there’s plenty of time for that.” A stage victory in the first week of his maiden Grand Tour, though, is a fine way for Matthews to get the ball rolling at the very highest level of bike racing.