Most of the cycling world knew that one day Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange) would have his day in the limelight at the Tour de France, even if he didn't believe it himself. To his own surprise, his day came on Tuesday in Revel when he made the day's decisive breakaway and benefitted from what was truly a team effort to win stage 10 – his first-ever career stage victory at the French Grand Tour.
"Today my dreams came true," Matthews said at the finish line. And of course they did, after all, the Australian had waited two painstaking years to earn this victory, one that he began to think he was never going achieve.
"It's just sinking in actually. I just won a stage of the Tour de France after two really bad years in this race. I was really close to giving in on this race. I just thought this race was maybe not for me and I'd focus on other races."
Although he has become one of the most successful riders in the peloton, when it comes to the Tour de France, the last two years had been tough on Matthews. In 2014, he was expected to make a debut at the Tour but he crashed ahead of the race and had to forfeit his place to teammate Christian Meier.
In 2015, which was almost as cruel. He started the race as one of the favourites for the sprints but was involved in a high-speed crashed during stage 3. Despite breaking three ribs he finished on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, but his highest finish was 8th on stage 15.
The road to Revel was a different story, Matthews did the unexpected by launching himself into the day's decisive breakaway. That large group struggled in the final sections of the race, largely due to the efforts of world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), but Matthews and his Orica-BikeExchange teammates Daryl Impey and Luke Durbridge had the strength and the numbers to stick to the head of the race as the group split apart.
The final showdown came between Sagan, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Samuel Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), along with Matthews, Durbridge and Impey.
Truly, with three teammates in the breakaway and the likes of Matthews, it was Orica-BikeExchange's race to lose. But none could discount Sagan, a predator on a stage like the one to Revel, or a cagey rider like Van Avermaet, who has proven he's capability of stealing a stage win from a sprinter.
Sensing an uneven match, Sagan tried multiple times to sear his way off the front, but he was simply outnumbered. Durbridge took the reins and led the select group into the base of the 1.8km climb up the Cote de Saint Ferreol, reeling in every one of Sagan's attacks. Impey then made his moves, one after another, forcing Sagan to close them down until he had nothing left to respond to Matthews' winning sprint for the finish line in Revel.
Although Matthews is the deserved winner of Cyclingnews' Rider of the Day honours, we also believe that it is as much a team reward as it is the winner's prize.
Kirsten Frattini says: We’ve all watched as Michael Matthews has wrestled with his inner demons surrounding the Tour de France over the last two years. His excitement at just making the Tour de France team with Orica-GreenEdge, shot down by bad luck and injuries – His display of disappointment was raw, and it was easy to sympathize with the emotions worn on his sleeves. But the cycling world is glad he didn’t give up on his dream of winning a stage at the Tour de France because deep down most have known his day would come, sooner or later. And what a spectacular way for it to happen on stage 10, by showcasing the strength of his team, riding three into the breakaway, and using their strength in numbers to out-do the likes of world champion Peter Sagan. Matthews seemed almost as pleased with his first-ever Tour de France victory as he was with finally getting an edge over Sagan, a man he placed second to at the World Championships only 10 months ago in Richmond, Virginia. I’m certainly not alone when I say that I think this is just the beginning of Matthews’ winning relationship with the Tour de France.
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- Tour de France: Matthews finds reward in persistence