Stage win keeps Aussie's Tour hopes alive
CYCLING: Michael Matthews has delivered the finest performance of his career, emphatically surging clear of his rivals to win a punishing Stage 14 of the Tour de France.
On a day when unrelenting high speeds shredded the peloton in the final 50km, the Australian exploded past Belgian stars Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert on the steep 570m stretch to Rodez to win comfortably.
The general classification was again shaken up by a tricky finish, with Chris Froome regaining the yellow jersey after Fabio Aru was surprisingly found wanting at the death.
But ahead of them, Matthews allowed himself a cheeky, extra long victory salute as Van Avermaet desperately tried to claw his way back in front in the final metres.
"I think last time we finished here two years ago, I had four broken ribs and skin off all over my body and it was one of the stages I was really targeting before I crashed,” Matthews said.
"Now, to come back on the same finish and to win like that, it's really a dream come true.”
It was Matthews' second Tour stage win after he claimed Stage 10 in Revel last year. While he was yesterday guided into perfect position by his Sunweb teammates, this was a bigger individual effort than 12 months earlier when ex-Orica-Scott teammates Daryl Impey and Luke Durbridge worked over Peter Sagan in a three-on-one scenario to get him the win.
Matthews' Tour has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs - second on Stage 3, 13th on Stage 10 and fourth on Stage 11 - but this was the win he so desperately craved.
It also keeps his green jersey dreams alive, with Matthews' 50-point win cutting Marcel Kittel's lead in the points classification to 99 ahead of a Stage 15 that also suits the Australian.
"We rode all day and when we kept the breakaway so close, I knew it was going to be hard to have a lot of teammates in the final because we had to ride quite hard to bring (Thomas) De Gendt back,” Matthews said.
"It was a perfect day.”
It also continued Team Sunweb's hot streak, with the German outfit taking its second consecutive stage win after king of the mountains leader Warren Barguil claimed honours on Bastille Day, while Tom Dumoulin won the Giro d'Italia.
Two days after Froome looked vulnerable on the ultra-steep runway finale at Peyragudes, he returned to a position of dominance with a perfectly-timed run-in that caught Aru napping.
"In the last kilometre I was a bit too far back and I had to make too big an effort to get back on to the group. I got caught out,” Aru said.
"Today it happened to me, tomorrow it could happen to somebody else. These are race situations.
"Logically, I'd prefer to have the lead but this is going to be a very tough final week and so not everything is lost.”
Froome, who flipped a six-second deficit into an 18-second advantage, said pulling the yellow jersey back on was a "very nice surprise”.
Incredibly, the top four are now separated by only 29 seconds.
"I never thought I'd get the jersey back on a stage like today,” Froome said.
"The team always stayed very close to the front and every second counts. It's a fight for every second this year. It's still so close between the main rivals.
"If you look at how the race blew up yesterday when Astana was trying to control it, hopefully we can bring the peloton into a little calmer situation tomorrow once we're in control again. Having said that, it's been a big week for everyon, and I expect it will be war again.”
De Gendt was part of a four-man breakaway he eventually dropped but he stood little chance of survival as a rampaging peloton lead by Sunweb, BMC and Quick-Step Floors kept the foot down.
It caused carnage behind as rider after rider was dispatched, forming a huge group of stragglers that finished more than 13 minutes behind.