Marcel Kittel did it again on Sunday, winning stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia in a mad dash to the line in Dublin.
The Giant-Shimano speedster was not in the best of positions in the fast, narrow, technical finale to the 187km stage from Armagh in Northern Ireland to the capital of the Irish Republic.
But he punched it hard and overhauled Ben Swift (Sky) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) to win for a second consecutive day, in the process giving himself a fine 26th-birthday present, even if he had to celebrate it sprawled on the Dublin tarmac, trying to catch his breath.
“I lost the wheel of (teammate) Tom Veelers because riders were coming from left and right and I was sandwiched,” said Matthews. “Afterwards the bunch was in one long line and I was back in 10th or 12th, but I thought, ‘I can’t give up.'”
Just when Swift seemed poised to raise his arms in victory, the huge figure of Kittel appeared on his shoulder and passed him in the final meters.
“He made an incredible comeback,” said Viviani.
“Yeah, it was close,” said Kittel, who cemented his hold on the red points jersey. “Actually I thought I lost the race already because I was in a not so good position. It was more an attack than a sprint. I’m so happy that it was good enough.”
Team director Addy Engels said his riders “lost each other a bit at the finish” and praised Kittel for coming through in the clinch.
“It was a technical run in and the pace was very high so it was hard to move back up once you lost position, but Marcel showed great composure once again on to bring it home for the team,” he said.
The stage was marked early on by a five-man break containing Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin), Yonder Godoy (Androni Giocattoli), Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Colombia), Giorgio Cecchinel (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo) and Gert Dockx (Lotto Belisol).
But all five were retrieved in the final half-dozen kilometers, setting up the bunch sprint.
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) retains the overall lead by eight seconds over Alessandro Petacchi (Omnega Pharma-Quick Step) with Daniel Oss (BMC Racing Team) third at 10 seconds.
The race leader tipped his hat to Kittel, calling him “the fastest man in the world.”
“On a flat sprint, he’s unbeatable,” said Matthews. “In the hillier terrain, he will lose some of his top-end speed, but with the leadout he has in these flat stages, he’s pretty unbeatable at the moment.”
He also had some kind words for the Emerald Isle.
“It was incredible … I got to wear my pink jersey, and the crowds made it even better,” Matthews said. “The crowds were truly amazing. I’m so happy I get to wear it in Italy on Tuesday.”
The Giro d’Italia will take a day off on Monday to relocate to Italy. Racing resumes Tuesday with stage 4, a flat, 112km leg from Giovinazzo to Bari.
• Once again crashes punctuated the day’s racing. Race leader Matthews hit the deck, as did five members of the Astana squad — among them team leader Michele Scarponi — who were part of a big pileup with 60km to go. And Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Cameron Meyer (Orica) decked it in a roundabout 35km from the line. Boasson Hagen was able to rejoin quickly and help Swift fight for the win, but Meyer took a while to get going again. He managed to finish last on the day at nearly 14 minutes down.
Editor’s note: Agence France Presse contributed to this report.