Cycling

BIG WELCOME HOME FOR BLING

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AUSTRALIAN road cycling team Mitchelton Scott has pulled off a recruiting coup by luring back a familiar face. RON REED and JOHN TREVORROW report:

CHAMPION road cyclist Michael Matthews is back where he belongs, under the Australian flag.

Matthews, 29, has signalled his departure from the German team Sunweb, where he has been for four years, to return to Australia’s only World Tour team, Mitchelton Scott, where he spent the previous  four years establishing himself as one of the brightest young talents in the sport.

Sportshounds.com.au foreshadowed this move at the weekend in the Seven Days in Sport column, which noted that Matthews was unhappy about not being selected for the Tour de France for the first time in five years and might be looking for a new home.

Mitchelton-Scott, who do not have a home-grown rider in their Tour team this week for the first time since their inception in 2011, have welcomed Matthews back with open arms given his strong record in Grand Tours and other big events.

“Bling,” as he is known, won the coveted green jersey for best sprinter at the 2017 Tour de France and has won three stages of that race, two at the Giro d’Italia and three at the Spanish Vuelta.

He has 35 individual career victories, including 18 during his first stint with GreenEDGE, as the team was originally known.

He has been in superb form in the past month, winning the Bretagne Classic and finishing third in the Milan-San Remo Classic, the second time has been on the podium in that race.

Matthews said he had made the switch because “I saw a moment where it just felt right. As a sprinter and as a rider you feel moments like this and sometimes you just have to go with your instinct.

Michael Matthews is back under the Aussie flag. Pic: Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“The opportunity was there to come back and you have to take them when they are there. A this moment in my career it just felt right and the team has welcomed me back with open arms which is really special.

“I have some amazing memories from GreenEDGE. (Team owner) Gerry Ryan supported me through my under 19, under 23 days and also helped me turn professional, so it just feels like coming home.

 “I want to get my own results but also to be a part of the team that has GC goals as well. We will have Simon Yates who can win the biggest Grand Tours and I would love to be part of that, and to help some young guys coming through to progress,

 “I wouldn’t put it down to one particular race or result to make the next two years successful, but I want to progress as a rider and as a team-mate and enjoy races.”

 Ryan said it had been “incredibly satisfying” to watch Matthews’ journey from aspiring junior to world-class professional.

 “Michael is a one-of-a-kind rider and has given this organisation some of our most spectacular victories on the world’s biggest stage, including the Tour d France.

 “We couldn’t be happier to have him back home. This is where he belongs.”

 In more good news on a big day for the team, Adam Yates sprinted to third place in stage two of the Tour, putti8ng him in second place on the General Classification.

 In a three-way sprint finish, Yates, 28 – who is in his last year with the Australian outfit before joining the British team Ineos – finished behind Julian Alaphillipe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Marc Hirschi (Sunweb). That left Yates four seconds behind Alaphillipe and three ahead of Hirschi overall.

 “It was a really hard day,” Yates said. “Even the climbs at rthe beginning we being ridden at a solid pace and you could feel the fatigue as we came onto the climb for the first time, you could see there were a lot people suffering, just like me.

 “In the final I got away with the two guys, we started working well towards the end and, yeah, I was never going to win that sprint, was I? So I think third was the best I was going to come out of that situation.”   

 JOHN TREVORROW reports on how it unfolded: What a difference a day makes. Stage 2 of Le Tour was another loop around Nice but raced under a vivid blue sky and with some significant mountain passes and the only crashes were rider error.

I can’t remember a Tour de France having a full on mountain stage so early in the event.

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Racing into the Alps with ascents of two category 1 mountains, La Colmiane and the Col de Turini, meant that the sprinters were never going to feature in the finale.

But the main climbs were too early in the stage, and maybe in the race, to entice the main GC riders to really attack. The final smaller climbs at 30 km and 10 km to go were always going to be the launching pad for the stage victory. 

And it was déjà vu again for Deceuninck Quickstep’s Julian Alaphilippe. Last year the French star won stage 2 and took the yellow jersey, which he wore for 14 stages, and a very emotional Alaphilippe has done it again.

It may not have been quite as dominant a win as last year but the man of many talents has snatched the Maillot Jaune and got the French fans dreaming again.  

The two main mountains were in the first half of the race and even though the big hitters did not put the pressure on, the climbs were just too long for the sprinters to stay in touch. The real action started around 40 kms to go on the cat 2 Col ‘Eze which was anything but. The team’s of the two stage favourites, Jumbo Visma and Deceuninck Quickstep, put the hammer down and the peloton kept diminishing with every kilometre. The final climb of the Col des Quatre Chemis, was always like to provide the platform for the winning move and so it proved. Alaphilippe shot out of the diminished peloton on the climb with only Sunweb’s young Swiss star Marc Hirschi, 2018 World U23 champion, able to react. The pair took their lead out to 18 seconds, well mostly the Frenchman and then half way up the climb Mitchelton Scott star climber Adam Yates exploded off the front and closed the gap effortlessly. He even managed to pip Alaphilippe for the crucial time bonuses up for grabs at the hill climb sprint. The trio worked well together in the final 10 km run into the finish in Nice, and were probably helped by the fact that Jumbo Visma’s co-leader Tom Dumoulin managed to fall on the climb and although not hurt, it certainly slowed the reaction of his team.

The final kilometre was nail biting stuff with the head wind meaning no one wanted to lead out and the three riders started playing the old cat and mouse game with the 18 second gap shrinking rapidly. Alaphilippe showed he was the better poker player and took out the stage from Hirshi and a gallant Yates third. A very emotional Alaphilippe pointed to the sky as a tribute to his father who passed away on the day the TdF was supposed to start two months ago. 

For Australian sprint star Caleb Ewan it was all about survival and recovery. Although he finished in the final group he looks recovered from his remarkable chase on stage 1 and ready for his next big opportunity tomorrow in the 198 km stage from Nice to Sisteron. There are four smaller categorised climbs along the way but the last of them is 50 km from the finish. This is a stage that will excite the break away specialists but the sprinters teams are sure to take control and let the fast men have their day. 

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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