Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) was considered one of the pre-race favourites for victory in the uphill finsh of stage 3 at the Tour de France, and the Australian sprinter lived up to those expectations on the Côte des Religieuses in Longwy.
Matthews surged to the front in the last moments, pushing until the finish line to pass Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) in the closing metres but falling just short of overtaking Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Afterward, 'Bling' Matthews faced another challenge at the anti-doping truck, trying to deliver a urine sample. It turned out to be difficult, and an hour and a half after the race, Matthews reappeared to answer questions from media.
The 26-year-old rider explained that this stage was a missed opportunity to get a second-ever Tour de France stage win after his victory in Revel last year.
"I had to come from far back," Matthews said. "I wasn’t well positioned before the climb, unfortunately. I had to make up a lot of ground before the sprint. Simone [Geschke] did a great job to try and close the gap. He couldn’t quite close it, so I had to close the gap to the five guys that were in front, and then still sprint after that. I think I had to work a little bit harder than I would’ve liked to."
When asked if he was disappointed, Matthews claimed he could have won the stage with better positioning.
"For sure, if I would’ve been further up it probably would’ve been the victory," he said. "It’s hard to say when you’re too far back what would’ve happened, but in the end I guess I’ll have to be happy with second."
Clearly, Matthews was out of position on the final climb, and he explained that Team Sunweb was unable to guide him well. At 16 kilometres from the finish, the Côte de Villers-la-Montage (4th category climb) was the start of a sprint to the finishing 3rd category climb.
“I think I have the form to beat a lot of the guys,” Matthews said. "Today, it didn’t work out as we had planned. Going into the climbs, we were a little bit lost. We had to re-evaluate on the climb and try something different. We’ll see what happens in the next stages. I think the legs are good and I think the team is really good to support me. We have to have big confidence after this stage going forward."
On Tuesday, the fourth stage of the Tour de France is likely to end with a bunch sprint. With a good result, Matthews can get into the mix for the green jersey of the points classification. For now, though, he’s positioned in fourth place with 44 points, 22 points from leader Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors).
“It’s a goal for every sprinter," he said. "We’re going for stage wins now. We’re going to see down the track what happens. It’s only stage 3.”
Before heading off to the team hotel, Matthews was asked about the second-hardest part of the day in the anti-doping bus.
“It took a long time," he said. "I would’ve liked to be in the hotel already. When it’s a finish like this, when it’s so hot, you’re really dehydrated. It takes a lot of time to get the urine sample done. Did I drink a beer? I didn’t but that might have been a good idea. It was just water. I guess I’ll be staying up all night, pissing all that water back out again that I just drunk.”
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