Matthews: “It was wild as expected”
The slight uphill at the finish of stage one suited last year’s green jersey winner but Michael Matthews had to settle for seventh in the sprint.
“It was wild as expected,” said Michael Matthews as he cooled down on the home trainer moments after the end of stage one of the 2018 Tour de France. “There was a bit of a crosswind that I wasn’t really expecting coming into that last eight or seven kilometres.”
It’s a different scenario for the rider who wears the number-1 ‘dossard’ for Team Sunweb again at the Tour. That generally denotes the status of team leader and Matthews carried that title with pride last year when he outlasted all other sprinters and arrived in Paris with an unassailable advantage in the points classification. He would become the third Australian to win the green jersey. But it’s different in 2018, and we all know the reason why.
While Matthews will wear ‘31’ in the 105th Tour, his accomplished team-mate, Tom Dumoulin, is ‘32’, but also a leader of the German-registered team.
The presence of the Dutchman means that there’s a change in approach in 2018: instead of exclusively chasing the green jersey – and stage wins, of course – for Matthews, the yellow jersey is now also a consideration.
The impact of this tactical change was apparent on day one.
“I was expecting to pretty much be alone in the lead-out because we also had to help Tom to make sure he stayed in good position,” said Matthews. “We tried to put me in a good spot but I had to do a little bit too much work in the final to have a real sprint.”
Fernando Gaviria (above), the first debutant to win the opening stage of the Tour since Dave Zabriskie in the TT at Noirmoutier in 2005.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Ahead of the Australian in Fontenay-le-Comte was Gaviria, who has become the second Colombian to wear the Tour’s yellow jersey, as well as Sagan, Kittel, Kristoff, Laporte and the winner of the final stage in 2017, Groenewegen.
Matthews knows he has time and, importantly, other stages that better suit his strengths. He’s a sprinter of sorts but he prefers a tough finale and while yesterday was frantic, it wasn’t quite the kind of gradient that suits his characteristics. “It was okay for me, that sprint actually,” he admitted about stage one.
“It wasn’t too flat. It was a little bit uphill which – if I had a good run at it, it would have been a nice sprint for me but unfortunately I had to come from a little bit too far back and I was totally pinned with 500 metres to go.”
Matthews cools down after stage one (above). Dumoulin (below) is one of the GC riders to finish in the front group, he was 27th.
Photos: Rob Arnold
In the past two Tours, Matthews has won three stages and he has the kind of form that allows him to believe he can add to that tally.
“As you saw, not many teams had a proper lead-out so [Quickstep] was just a little bit more organised at the front than we were in the final there but I’m happy to get through safe.” The team of the winner had six of its eight men in the front group in stage one, by far the biggest tally of any team.
Some of the GC specialists suffered losses in the opening stage, key amongst them were Richie Porte, Adam Yates, Chris Froome (all 1:01 behind Gaviria) and Nairo Quintana, at 1:25.
But Sunweb has reason to be pleased with the result even if the win eluded Matthews. “Tom got through safe and the rest of the boys are all in good shape, so I think that’s a positive,” said the Australian.
The Dutchman was equally as upbeat about the outcome. “I think Michael wanted to have a little bit better result in the sprint but that’s how it is,” said Dumoulin. “It’s okay for the first day but we hope to improve.
“It was a hectic day again, like expected. That’s how it always is in the Tour. But I felt good and I was out of trouble thanks to the guys and… what can I say? For us it was a positive day in the end.”
– By Rob Arnold
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