Cycling

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR FOR MATTHEWS

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VUELTA win narrowly eludes Australian sprinter, writs JOHN TREVORROW:

GREAT Dane Magnus Corte won his fifth Vuelta stage and his second this year after a brilliant late ambush by EF Education Nippo teammate Belgian Jens Keukeleire on stage 12.

What made it even more impressive was that Cort had been in the day-long breakaway the previous stage and almost held off a charging Primoz Roglic on the gut-wrenching final climb.

Australian Michael Matthews found himself frustratingly close to his first win of the season but was foiled by a late Aussie attack and then ambushed by two former teammates. Bike Exchange found themselves on the front too early chasing down Aussie Jay Vine (Alpecin Fenix), the last man standing from a late four-man breakaway and then former GreenEdge teammates Corte and Keukeliere ambushed their former teammate in the final few hundred metres.  

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Vine was magnificent. As the original breakaway was closed down on the final 10 km cat 2 climb, he joined a new attack and found himself in solid company with Colombian Sergio Henao (Qhubeka NextHash), Frenchman Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Italian Giulio Ciccone (Team Trek Segafredo). They opened a small gap on the steep climb and and on the fast descent back into Córdoba.

The four never got more than 30 seconds from the peloton being led by BikeExchange and UAE Team Emirates and it was the young Aussie, who only joined the pro peloton by winning a stationary bike competition, who rode clear in the final couple of kilometres.

With the fast pace set in the latter parts of the day and temperatures touching on 40 degrees, there weren’t many teams able to contribute and this is when it becomes a bit of a poker game. I thought Team BikeExchange played their hand a bit early and found themselves on the front about six kilometres to go. With five teammates in front of him Matthews was looking good, but his team had done a power of work earlier in the stage to bring back the original breakaway and it meant trusty lead-out man Luka Mezgez had to hit the front with still 700 metres to go. As Mezgez caught Vine about 500 metres out, Keukeleire roared past with Corte and Italian Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck-QuickStep) tucked in behind. They gapped Matthews who hesitated for a split second hoping Mezgez could grab the wheel, but he was done. Matthews could not close the small gap and that was it. Third in a stage for the second time is OK but not what they desperately wanted.

“After yesterday, today was always going to be difficult,” an obviously drained and disappointed Matthews said at the finish, “But it all came together in the final. I had been struggling on the climbs and had to grit my teeth to be there,” Matthews added.”Clearly today was a disappointing day for us but the team was really good, they threw everything at it,” Team Bike Exchange Sports Director Julian Dean said.

Norwegian Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) finished safely in the reduced peloton to retain the overall lead with Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) having survived another scare when he crashed again, this time on a climb, but managed to escape injury. 

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Author: John Trevorrow

JOHN TREVORROW is a multiple Australian champion road racer and Olympian who has been doing media commentary at the Tour de France for more than 20 years.

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