Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) had understandably been given the role of favourite for the uphill finish of stage 14 of the Tour de France in Rodez after his win here in 2015, but the classy Belgian Classics rider had to accept defeat just beyond the finish line after Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) found a little extra speed to win their superb duel in the final 200 metres of the stage.
Van Avermaet managed to hold off Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the same finish in 2015, elevating his career and status to that of a great one-day and Classics rider. This time Matthews came past him, but Van Avermaet was proud in defeat while sporting in his praise of Matthews.
"I think we did what we had to do, but I got beaten by one guy who was stronger. Sometimes in the end, cycling can be simple," he said before recalling the superb work of BMC during the stage and especially in the finale as they set him up for his shot at victory.
"I think we did a really good job to make the race hard when the climbs came in the finale. That helped me because then everyone was suffering and I had a little bit more punch in the end.
"The finish went how I wanted it to go because there was a lot of wind. I was hoping that I didn't have to go too early, and I think the two Belgian guys, Olivier Naesen and Philippe Gilbert, did a good job. I was in a perfect position.
"Then, I tried to launch my sprint to victory, but Matthews was amazingly strong and fast. I can't be disappointed, Matthews deserved the victory today."
Van Avermaet failed to repeat his win of 2015 but refuted the notion that his and BMC's Tour de France is over. Losing Richie Porte means the US-registered team has no overall ambitions, but they are fully focused on winning a stage before the finish in Paris a week from Sunday.
"I think we've got a chance to win the stage, starting from tomorrow, which suits me too," Van Avermaet said. "I think we've got two or three others chances in the final week, too. Our Tour is far from over. I think we have to stay confident and we can try again."
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