CYCLING expert JOHN TREVORROW reports on mixed fortunes for the Australian riders as the Tour of Spain gets underway.
THE opening two stages of the Vuelta a Espana produced plenty of fireworks with defending champion Slovenian Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) taking out the challenging stage one 7km individual time trial and narrowly avoiding a huge crash in the final five kilometres of stage 2.
Unfortunately Australia’s best chances for a high overall placing, Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange), were caught up in the crash five kilometres and, as it happened just outside of the 3km cut-off point, it also meant that anyone caught out would not be given a time reprieve. So, although not hurt, both lost just over 30 seconds.
Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) is leading the Aussie charge with a fine ninth in the time trial and a close third in the stage 2 sprint finish elevating the three-time Vuelta stage winner into third overall at just 10 seconds. But that is sure to change with the nine kilometre category 1 finishing climb to stage 3 where the overall contenders will play their cards.
Matthews was delivered into the perfect position by teammate Luka Mezgec and raced past Colombian Sebastion Molano (UAE Team Emirates) inside the final 200 metres, but Belgian Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Fenix) and Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck Quickstep) were just too quick flashing past on either side to take the top spots on the podium.
“There’s not a massive sprint field here, but the sprinters that are here are fast, so my goal was a top-three, top-five today, so we achieved that,” a slightly disappointed Matthews said.
The boys delivered me well today and we can be really confident in our lead-out here. There’s not a massive field of sprint trains at the Vuelta so that makes it a bit easier for us not having a large sprint train ourselves so we can just mix it up. I take confidence from yesterday’s TT and today’s sprint stage.”Matthews said.
The predicted strong side winds never eventuated so a small break of three Spanish riders from the three Spanish wildcard teams were allowed a bit of leeway. Diego Rubio (Burgos-BH), Sergio Martin (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Xabier Mikel Azparren (Euskaltel-Euskadi) only got a gap of around two minutes as the sprinters teams were never going to let them get too much lead.
The intermediate sprint came very late in the stage and Astana-Premier Tech were instrumental in bringing back the breakaway so their highest placed rider Alex Aranburu could get the bonus seconds and a slim chance of taking the red leaders jersey.
The Spaniard was a surprising and very impressive second in the opening stage, and was led out by Kazak squad to try and grab the three seconds bonus on offer. Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen, showing he has fully recovered from his life-threatening crash last year, flashed past to relegate Aranburu to second and the two second bonus reducing the Spaniard’s deficit to Roglic to only four seconds.