Matthews underlines race lead with win on stage three of Giro d’Italia

Overall leader Michael Matthews retained his Maglia Rosa in fine style on Monday’s third stage of the Giro d’Italia, winning a reduced bunch sprint to the line in Sestri Levante and notching up the second Giro stage win of his career. The Australian Orica GreenEdge rider beat Trek Factory…

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Overall leader Michael Matthews retained his Maglia Rosa in fine style on Monday’s third stage of the Giro d’Italia, winning a reduced bunch sprint to the line in Sestri Levante and notching up the second Giro stage win of his career.

The Australian Orica GreenEdge rider beat Trek Factory Racing’s Fabio Felline and former world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team), with Sergey Lagutin (Team Katusha) and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana Pro Team) completing the top five.

Matthews had said on Sunday that Monday was an important opportunity for him and the team. He echoed that sentiment after taking the stage.

“After the team time trial win, today was another big target for us,” he said. “We reconned the stage last week so we knew what to expect, and we pulled it off.

“We did very well to get two guys into the breakaway. The stage was quite hard, and I tried to get to the foot of the final climb near the front so that I could drift back to save some energy. I tried to save my legs as much as possible.

“Simon Gerrans worked very hard to position me for the sprint. The Giro d’Italia so far is a dream come true for me.”

The result saw him end the day six seconds clear of team-mate Simon Clarke and ten ahead of another two Orica-GreenEdge riders, Simon Gerrans and Esteban Chaves.

Tinkoff Saxo duo Roman Kreuziger and Alberto Contador are next, seventeen seconds back. The latter is biding his time, waiting for the tougher stages before making what he hopes will be a strong bid for overall success.

He and the other GC contenders will aim to stay vigilant on stage four’s race to La Spezia, a 150 kilometre leg that is constantly up and down and which could see some riders lose time due to that profile and also the winding, technically-demanding roads.

Before then, though, the Orica-GreenEdge team will celebrate their ongoing successes in the race.

“We couldn’t imagine this Giro starting any better,” said sport director Matt White. “You come to races with plans and goals and we have achieved them so far.

“Our team has always been very tight, they are very well drilled and they are very loyal to each other and that’s a big factor we have.

“It’s one thing having a plan but you need guys with the ability and commitment to carry it out, they all should be very proud of their ride.”

How it played out:

The 136 kilometre stage from Rapallo to Sestri Levante took the riders over some very undulating roads, including the second category ascent of Barbagelata, and this ramp seemed a possible platform for a break to stay clear until the end.

However that climb was located 44 kilometres from the finish, providing opportunity for sprinters’ teams to get things back before the line.

Michael Matthews started the day in pink and level on time with three of his Orica GreenEdge team-mates, namely Simon Gerrans, Simon Clarke and Esteban Chaves, and was determined to hold on at the top. He also wanted to go for the stage win, as did Sunday’s stage two victor, Elia Viviani (Sky).

Other riders had no intention of waiting until the end and it wasn’t surprising when a large break attacked five kilometres after the drop of the flag.

This group included Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal), who was celebrating his birthday, as well as former world champions Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team), the latter’s team-mates Darwin Atapuma and Marcus Burghardt, Matthew’s team-mate Esteban Chaves, Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Davide Malacarne (Astana), Axel Domont (AG2R-La Mondiale), Rubén Fernandez (Movistar), Cedric Pineau and Maurilo Fisher (FDJ), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha), Salvatore Puccio (Team Sky), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo), Davide Villella (Cannondale), Gianfranco Zilioni (Androni-Giocattoli), Branislau Samoilau and Maciej Paterski (both CCC Sprandi), plus the Bardiani-CSF trio of Nicola Boem, Edoardo Zardini and Luca Chirico.

Of those, Clarke had started the day highest-placed in the general classification. He was third overall, level on time with Matthews, and became race leader on the road when the group opened a 30 second gap.

Zardini took top points at the summit of the day’s first categorised climb, beating Ulissi and Herrada, and continued to push on alone. With 100 kilometres left he was 40 seconds up on six chasers and a minute ahead of the other riders in the break. The peloton was almost three minutes back at that point.

Ulissi and Villella were feeling good and they subsequently overhauled the leader, pushing ahead. They were soon hauled back, though, and dropped by the first group of chasers. Things came back together after that for the break and with 70 kilometres left, the big move was 50 seconds ahead of the peloton.

Clarke knew that he could be riding into the Maglia Rosa and he contested the intermediate sprints. He placed second to Gilbert in two of these and remained prominent as the break raced onto the Barbagelata climb.

Things heat up as the finish approaches

Kochetkov was keen to try to pick up mountain points and launched a big attack that carried him well clear. He had a solid gap going over the summit, securing the lead in the mountains classification, and kept going. The break splintered on the climb and by the time the riders reached the descent, Clarke, Ulissi, Gilbert, Hansen, Paterski, Chaves, Samoilau, Herrada, Gavazzi and Villella were 20 seconds back and chasing hard.

Meanwhile there was concern as Ag2r La Mondiale leader Domenico Pozzovivo had crashed hard. He was initially motionless but had recovered somewhat when he was stretchered away.

Kochetkov knew it would be hard to hold off those behind but he kept hammering. With 19 kilometres left he was 18 seconds ahead of that chasing group and one minute one second up on the main bunch.

Hansen was unhappy with the work rate in the chase and jumped hard with 14 kilometres left, deciding to try to bridge by himself. Clarke closed him down, bringing Paterski back up to him, and together the trio joined up with Kochetkov with ten kilometres remaining.

Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff Saxo team were chasing hard and trimmed the gap down to nine seconds with 7.5 kilometres to go and then to four seconds with five kilometres left.

Kochetkov could see things slipping away and made another surge with 4.7 kilometres left. Clarke was attentive, however, and jumped onto him immediately and then refused to roll through. The bunch then caught the duo with three and a half kilometres to go.

Tinkoff-Saxo continued to ride hard, protecting Contador, with Astana and Sky forming parallel lines at the front going under the three kilometre to go barrier. The riders raced on towards the finish and there Matthews got his position just right, thundered in to win in pink, and extended his overall lead.

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