"Unfortunately on that last climb with about three kilometres to go, our team sort of disintegrated a little bit," Team Sunweb's Michael Matthews told reporters immediately after having crossed the finish line of stage 2 of the Tour de France on Sunday.
The team time trial had been one of the squad's main goals, but finishing six seconds behind stage leaders Team Ineos at that time left Matthews disappointed. Later, both Deceuninck-QuickStep and stage winners Jumbo-Visma would also better Sunweb, leaving the German-registered WorldTour squad in fourth place.
"But I think we did everything we could," Matthews continued. "I guess we'll have to look back and… Was it Ineos that beat us? We'll have to look back and see what they did. I think I saw at the intermediate [check point] that they were about 10 seconds up, so I guess we did finish faster than them, but unfortunately that wasn't fast enough.
"The team time trial is all about the team, and basically you're as fast as your weakest link. Unfortunately we weren't fast enough today," he repeated.
Asked what he meant by the team having disintegrated, Matthews was happy to offer an assessment of his team's day while he continued to try to catch his breath.
"We have some bigger guys on the team, for my lead-out, obviously, and for those guys to get up the hard climb at the finish there was always going to be difficult, so we just decided that they would do a 'suicide pull' to keep the speed for the team," Matthews explained, suggesting that some riders would sacrifice themselves by 'pulling' at the front of the line, and then drop off, leaving at least four riders to cross the finish line, with the clock stopping on each team's fourth rider.
"I still had a bit more horsepower in the final there, but I think they maybe kicked a little too hard for some of the other guys, and it blew some of our guys that were meant to finish [in the front four]," Matthews added.
"I think it's all about learning. We made a mistake today, unfortunately, but it is what it is," he said.
On paper, at least, Monday's slightly hillier 215km-long stage 3 from Binche to Epernay looks as though it could be tailor-made for Matthews, but he admitted that he hadn't looked at the course profile in detail, as the team had been concentrating on the TTT.
"But for sure we'll try," he said. "I think I showed that I had good legs yesterday [Saturday] on the first stage, but unfortunately I was just a little bit unlucky in that if Elia Viviani had been on my wheel, then Deceuninck-QuickStep would have kept pulling.
"But I guess Michael Morkov and Max Richeze couldn't see Viviani, so the normal thing for lead-out guys to do if they can't see their sprinter is to swing off to give their sprinter a chance to get back to the front," said Matthews, who found himself in second place, behind Richeze, with 300 metres to go. When the Argentinian swung off, Matthews was left at the front, in the wind, too early on the slightly uphill finish.
Forced then to open the sprint, the 28-year-old was quickly swamped by the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan and eventual stage winner Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma).
"I was just a bit unlucky with my position. Normally I'm too far back, and that time I was too far near the front, so hopefully tomorrow I can get it right," he said.
"Today's [TTT] stage was a big goal for us, and we tried to focus on it as much as possible, so I guess tonight we'll go over tomorrow's stage, and hopefully we can get some good knowledge of it and try again on Monday."
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