Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) began his first race of the season targeting a stage win and said that the objective remains unchanged even after he took the overall lead at Paris-Nice thanks to bonus time gained in intermediate sprints and a third place on the finish line.
"I think we've worked really well the last two days, which has paid off with the yellow jersey. Hopefully, we can add to that with a stage win, which was the main goal for Paris-Nice. We'll continue to fight and it looks like we'll have another opportunity in a couple of days," said the Australian following the yellow jersey presentation.
Five seconds down on Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) going into the stage, Matthews drew level on time with the Irishman when he collected three and then a further two bonus seconds at intermediate sprints. Third place on the line behind behind Team DSM's Cees Bol and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) gave him four more seconds, as Bennett missed out on the bonuses by finishing fifth.
"I'm trying to get everything possible I can out of this race, especially with the breakaways not really going away, which is leaving the opportunity to do the intermediate sprints. I'm a rider who likes to be active all day. I don't like to wait just until the final sprint, and in the end, that worked out today," said Matthews.
He described the closing kilometres as "a little bit sketchy," adding, "it was very stressful after what had been quite an easy day. I had quite fresh legs going into the final and was well-positioned turning into the final straight, good enough legs for third, although obviously I wanted the win and came up a bit short."
Asked why there had been numerous crashes during the stage, Matthews responded: "I think the whole day I'd guess that a lot of DS's were saying, 'Stay at the front.' Everyone wanted to be at the front on all these narrow, small roads. There was always the potential for crosswinds, but it never really happened. I guess it was down to stress in the peloton and maybe little lapses of concentration."
The 14 kilometre stage three time trial should suit the punchy Australian, who's hoping his early-season form is good enough to enable him to hang on to yellow. "I haven't done a time trial yet [this year]," he said. "But everything's been going well in my time trial training and hopefully I can do a good TT tomorrow."
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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