PODIUM place keeps Matthews in the hunt for the points jersey but it’s going to be tough, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
AUSTRALIAN Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) has kept his green dream alive with a gutsy third place in stage 16 as the Tour de France climbed into the Pyrenees.
The day was really just an entrée to the monster summit finish days of stages 17 and 18 but there were four categorised climbs including the cat 1 Col de la Core just after the intermediate sprint. Matthews and Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) got clear to grab some crucial points in their battle for the green jersey and settled into a breakaway group of 11 as they climbed the mountain. The lead group didn’t contain any threats to the overall contenders and with the main GC riders keeping their powder dry for the real challenges ahead, the group were set to fight it out for the stage win.
Austrian champion Patrick Konrad (Bora hansghroe) looked by far the strongest and after a few attacks to soften the opposition he rode solo to an impressive win. Colbrelli outsprinted Matthews for second spot and they both reduced the margin to Mark Cavendish but the opportunities are going to be scarce in the coming days. Matthews is now 37 points behind Cavendish with Colbrelli 47 points behind the Aussie.
“I think today was a good opportunity for a stage win for a rider like myself,” Matthews said. “ Our plan was to go in the breakaway, and we achieved that. The plan was to get some points in the intermediate and we achieved that, but just came up short with the stage win.
“I think the whole team did a great job at the start to get two guys in the breakaway, myself and Chris Juul-Jensen. We keep bashing at the door to get that stage win and we will continue fighting for it.
“We had eight guys chopping off (when Konrad attacked) so I didn’t think that break would go, and I wasn’t feeling that good on the climbs today so I really wanted to back my sprint and hope that it would all come back together, but in the end one rider stayed away.
“I am closer (to the points classification lead) but not close enough. Cavendish still has two more stage opportunities in this Tour de France. If he wins them then that’s another 100 points so all this work I’ve been doing the last days could be all for nothing, but I am a fighter and I will fight all the way to Paris.”
Team BikeExchange Sports Director Matt White was impressed with Matthews effort.
“Michael rode incredibly well, it was a very tough Pyrenees stage and to see him and Colbrelli there, they have had a right battle between themselves for those intermediate sprint,”White said.
“To finish third on a Pyrenees stage like today is a really big effort from Michael. He also picked up more points, finishing fourth in the intermediate sprint and third on the line, so again we are just chipping away, and we will hope for the best. There’s nothing else we can do except going after it and we did that today.”
The fight for the yellow jersey was put on hold for the day but that all changes with the two summit finishes ahead which could tip the overall on its head.