"Who won today? The team won. Michael Matthews won the stage but we as a team won today."
Orica-BikeExchange boss Matt White took immense pride in Michael Matthews' victory on stage 10 of the Tour de France on Tuesday – a milestone on an individual level as the Australian broke his Tour duck but also, just as significantly, a consummate display of teamwork.
"Michael Matthews is not coming back to this team next year," said White, confirming the 25-year-old's departure, "but who did we work for?
"We were a team and our number one objective was to win a stage, whether someone's in the team next year or not. That's the culture of our team. You saw Daryl Impey working 100 per cent for a guy who probably wont be his teammate next year. But who won today? The team won. Michael won the stage but we as a team won today and that's something to be very proud of."
Orica, who have Adam Yates second on GC but who came into the Tour with the priority of winning a stage, were active on the early first-category climb in Andorra and managed to get three men – first Matthews, then Daryl Impey and Luke Durbridge – into the breakaway.
"I heard over radio that Luke Durbridge and Daryl Impey were coming across, and then on I knew it was game on," said Matthews in his winner's press conference.
Orica were the most strongly represented team in the 15-man group, which built up a stage-winning lead on the flat roads back on French soil, but their numerical advantage was accentuated when Peter Sagan split the group in the crosswinds, reducing it to seven – the four other riders all coming from different teams.
"Peter actually put it in the gutter, and that really put things in our favour," noted Impey. "With three guys still there we decided to commit for it, and the rest is history."
How to solve a problem like Sagan
With just under 25km remaining, it was down to Durbridge to the "grunt work", as White put it, riding hard and dictating ahead of the short third-category Côte de Saint-Ferréol with just over 7km to go – and then it was over to Impey.
"Luke did a great job keeping me fresh for the climb," said the South African. "It was about throwing out a few punches there at the end, trying to soften everyone up – we were obviously worried about Peter and Boasson Hagen.
"He [Matthews] said he was feeling good, then basically it was just trying to keep attacking. It was a short climb but pretty hard, and we just had to make sure everyone was softened up and couldn't surprise us at the end."
The principal threat was, naturally, Sagan.
"Peter's a freak," said White, putting it bluntly. "Who'd have thought a guy who's chasing the green jersey and has already won a stage would go on the attack from KM0 on a first-category climb?"
And so while Impey went about his business, Matthews took up residence on Sagan's back wheel, following the world champion as he took responsibility in closing the gaps, and then refusing to budge even when he slowed and weaved across the road.
"Obviously we had Michael watching Peter Sagan. It's not rocket science – he's the best bike rider in the world at the moment," said White. "Daryl played it well, forced Sagan to cover everything, then when you have Michael versus Sagan, after the amount of effort he'd made, Michael was good enough to beat him."
The victory is Orica's third at the Tour after a barren couple of years, and the same goes for Matthews himself, who admitted he had contemplated leaving the race, wondering if it things might simply never go his way here. Now he has made his breakthrough, with a full set of Grand Tour stage wins, and he also delighted in getting the better of someone who has turned into something of a nemesis.
"He's got a few over me – especially with the world champion's jersey – so it's nice to get one back," he said of Sagan, before lauding the team effort that made it possible.
"I couldn't have asked for more from my teammates. They believed in me, and gave me everything they had."
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