REVEL, France, July 12, (AFP): Michael Matthews completed the full set of Grand Tour stage victories with a “dream come true” success at the Tour de France 10th stage on Tuesday.
Reigning champion Chris Froome retained the leader’s yellow jersey, the Briton rolling over the line with a languid peloton almost 10 minutes behind Matthews.
The 25-year-old Australian had already taken three stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana and two on the Giro d’Italia.
But on Tuesday he pipped world champion Peter Sagan and Edvald Boassen Hagen of Norway in a sprint finish following great teamwork from his Orica outfit.
Fellow Aussie Luke Durbridge and South African Daryl Impey sacrificed their own victory chances to allow the fast-finishing Matthews to burst to the line first at the end of the 184km trek from Andorra to Revel.
Matthews, from Canberra, even had time to lift his arms in celebration before crossing the line.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s only just sinking in,” said Matthews.
“I was close to giving in at this race after I had two bad crashes two years and one year ago. I thought maybe this race is not for me but today my dream came true.
“It was never the plan to go for a breakaway today. We wanted a bunch sprint finish but we’re such a strong group of guys.
“Durbridge and Impey gave me everything to win today. I have no words to describe what they did for me.”
It was a high calibre six-man sprint containing four former Tour stage winners, while Impey once wore the race leader’s yellow jersey.
That remained with Froome, with his British countryman Adam Yates, who also rides for Orica, second at 16sec and Dan Martin of Ireland third overall at 19sec.
Just two days out from a stage finish on the mythical Mont Ventoux, it was a day for the favourites to take a back seat.
Setting off with a 22km climb to the highest point of the race at 2,400-metres above sea level, it was a sprightly start to the day as opportunities to get in a breakaway were aplenty.
Several breaks tried to form with Sagan particularly restless.
Portugal’s Rui Costa was first over the top of the Port d’Envalira mountain but the successful breakaway didn’t form until more than 50km had been covered and the descent was coming to an end.
Fifteen riders, Sagan among them, got away and quickly built a lead of more than six minutes.
But several teams that had missed the break — which included nine former Tour stage winners — decided not to make life comfortable for those out front and stretched out the peloton in a rapid chase.
But with 25km left, Sagan put in a searing burst of pace that split the breakaway group, leaving just seven riders in the lead — crucially three of those from the Aussie Orica team.
At that point, the peloton gave up the chase while up front tactics started to play a role as Orica tried to keep Matthews fresh for the finish.
Durbridge did a lot of work at the front of the group but was dropped once Sagan accelerated on a steep, but short climb close to the finish.
Impey kept the pace high over the final few kilometres, allowing Matthews to stay tucked in behind Sagan and time his sprint finish to perfection.
The one consolation for Sagan, who took second place on a Tour stage for the 17th time since 2012, against just five victories, was that he took back the green sprinters’ points jersey from Briton Mark Cavendish.
“I came second, I’m happy for Michael to win his first stage at the Tour de France,” said Sagan. “I’m happy with my points for the green jersey.”