Michael Matthews gave BikeExchange-Jayco their second Tour de France stage win of the year in stage 14, showing incredible grit and determination on the steep ascent to the Mende Aerodrome.
The Australian held onto a stinging acceleration from Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) on the steepest pitches and, as the road began to level off, he sprinted past the Italian and powered to his first Tour stage win in five years.
"I think it's the story of my career. I've had so many rollercoasters up and down. But my wife, my daughter, they kept believing in me. How many times I've been smashed down and all the time get back up - this was for my daughter today.
"I was thinking of my daughter on the final climb the whole way up to the finish and my wife, how much they sacrifice for me to make my dreams come true. Hopefully, today I showed them the reason why."
Matthews said he was targeting stages 13 through 15 and was disappointed to miss the move yesterday.
"Yesterday was a really good stage for me, but it went so bad for me - the team rode in the final to bring back the sprint for Dylan [Groenewegen] and we were too late. Today, I just knew it would probably be my last chance. [The stage] into Lausanne was a good opportunity and I came up second. Then the other stage when I was second again to Tadej [on stage 6 to Longwy]. I wanted to show everyone I'm not just a sprinter, I can ride like I rode today."
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) dashed away from the rest of the breakaway riders to take third on the day.
The long, hilly stage through the Massif Central started with former race leader Tadej Pogačar smashing the race apart on the first climb. Yellow jersey holder Jonas Vingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma team maintained control and nullified the move and let the escape gain over 14 minutes mid-stage.
More than 12 minutes after the breakaway were done and rehydrating at the team buses, the yellow jersey battle recommenced on the finishing climb. Pogačar attacked but Vingegaard closely followed as the rest of the overall contenders were left behind.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) was the last to lose touch and chased with Adam Yates. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) bridged across and then attacked, while Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) clawed his way up to Thomas.
Thomas caught Gaudu and, while he lost 17 seconds to the two dominant riders, he gained some time on Romain Bardet (DSM).
The biggest change in the top 10 was the insertion of escapee Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), who climbed into seventh after making the day's winning move. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) lost 1:10 to the race leader and slid to ninth, with Movistar's Enric Mas in 10th at 10 minutes. Mas, Bardet and Vlasov finished the stage together 26 seconds behind Vingegaard.
The 192.5km stage was a long, undulating route southwest into the summer heat of central France with just 120km of flat roads.
The finish on the Mende Aerodrome always inspires attacks and everyone knew it from the start.
When the flag dropped on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne, the attacks came thick and fast as riders fought to get in the break.
12 riders got away and then they became 18 on a slight descent before the Côte de Saint-Just-Malmont after 14.2km provided the perfect launchpad for something more serious. Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) and Chris Juul Jensen (BikeExchange-Jayco) surged away but then suddenly the race for the yellow jersey exploded behind.
Primoz Roglic was caught out of place and suddenly, as the Côte de Saint-Just-Malmont hurt everyone, Pogačar attacked. He blew the peloton apart and forced Vingegaard to chase. However, he only had Wout van Aert to help. It was an intense moment with 180km still to race.
Pogačar was soon caught but he attacked again and then again. Fortunately for Vingegaard, Van Aert was strong and kept stitching the peloton back together.
Powless and Juul Jensen reached the top of the climb together but it was chaos behind, with Caleb Ewan quickly dropped and in pain after his stage 13 crash.
Surprisingly Roglič was also distanced and caught in a chase group. That left Vingegaard with only half his team.
Pogacar and Vingegaard remain locked in battle for the GC. Here's our assessment of the major favourites
Finally, the breakaway goes
The Côte da Châtaignier after 40km offered another opportunity to get away, with the 50-rider peloton unable to chase every surge as Jumbo-Visma were concerned about being isolated and exposed.
Franck Bonnamour (B&B Hotels) kicked off the decisive attack. With the yellow jersey group in full flight on the climb and Roglič's group 2:45 behind, mountains leader Simon Geschke (Cofidis) led the charge, catching the B&B Hotels-KTM rider 200m before the summit to take the maximum points.
That surge pulled away a group that would eventually form the day's enormous move. Dani Martinez and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) attacked to bridge with Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost).
A total of 23 riders made the move, with most teams represented as Jumbo-Visma blocked the road to allow the Roglič group to return. Only Alpecin-Deceuninck, Arkéa-Samsic, Astana, Jumbo Visma, QuickStep-AlphaVInyl, Team DSM and TotalEnergies missed the breakaway.
It contained: Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers), Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R-Citröen), Felix Großschartner, Lennard Kämna and Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Gregor Mühlberger (Movistar), Simon Geschke (Cofidis), Luis Leon Sanchez (Bahrain Victorious), Stefan Küng and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Alberto Bettiol, Neilson Powless and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost), Andreas Kron (Lotto-Soudal), Bauke Mollema and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Jakob Fuglsang, Krists Neilands and Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Franck Bonnamour (B&B Hotels-KTM).
By the time the breakaway hit the intermediate sprint with 142km to go, they had 4:41 in hand and Matthews claimed the 20 points available in Yssingeaux ahead of Neilands and Großschartner.
With 97km to go the gap was out to 10 minutes as the rest of the peloton rode a steady tempo and tried to stay cool amid the heat of the Massif Central. Ewan and his teammates were still fighting to stay within the time limit 20 minutes behind the leaders.
With Meintjes the best-placed of the move at 15:46, they weren't given much more of a lead and the gap would remain stable through the next point of interest, the Côte de Grandrieu (category 3), where Geschke again took the maximum points.
Directly after the climb, Simmons attacked and was tracked closely by Powless and, as the road continued to head up after the KOM, the bearded Trek-Segafredo rider continued to force it but Bora-Hansgrohe shut it down.
Matthews sparks the end game
As the road levelled and the race hit a nice tailwind, Matthews launched a move and although no one joined him immediately, having a carrot ahead of the Côte de la Fage, Kron led the desperate scramble to get across, joined by Sánchez and Großschartner, while EF-EasyPost led the effort behind.
The chasers made it to the Australian with 41km to go and as Meintjes edged closer to the virtual maillot jaune, 13 minutes behind Vingegaard.
At the Côte de la Fage, Matthews led the four leaders over the top as Soler attacked from the chasing group, and soon Bettiol and Kämna joined him, then Martínez scrambled across but Meintjes - with over 14 minutes on the yellow jersey group, pushed forward.
On a quick descent, Kron suffered a front puncture and almost crashed into some spectators and was out of the lead, while Meintjes' group shut down the attackers and Jumbo-Visma set a light tempo 14:35 behind.
With 10km to go, the trio were 40 seconds ahead of the chasing group while finally Wout van Aert picked up the pace in the Vingegaard group and started to reduce the gap to Meintjes. But then, on the final climb to Mende, Woods put in a vicious surge and the gap to the trio tumbled.
Matthews attacked with 3.5km to go and neither Sánchez nor Großschartner could match him. As the chasers approached, Bettiol surged, passed the dropped duo and set off in pursuit of Matthews. He made contact before the summit and Matthews held on for dear life as the former Tour of Flanders winner accelerated.
Matthews survived and when the gradient eased, he left Bettiol behind just as Pinot launched a move further down the climb. It was far too late for the Frenchman and Matthews celebrated his first Tour stage win in five years.
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