Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) out-sprinted Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) to win stage 3 of the Vuelta a España in a punchy uphill finish.
The young Australian rediscovered the sprinting legs that carried him to six days in the pink jersey in this year’s Giro d’Italia. For his efforts in the 188km stage from Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera, he was rewarded with both the stage win and the Vuelta’s red leader’s jersey.
He earned a 10-second time bonus on the line, which gave him the overall lead.
“Today we had to take control from the start because we had a really good chance to win the stage,” said Matthews. “As you can see from the finish, none of my teammates are here because they sacrificed themselves 110 percent.
“It is definitely a dream come true,” Matthews said of the 2014 season. “I didn’t expect to have any grand tour leader’s jerseys this year and now I have two from both of the three-week races I’ve done. I still can’t believe it, I am definitely going to have to pinch myself tonight.”
GC contenders Cadel Evans (BMC), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), and Chris Froome all finished in the top-10.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), on the other hand, was not so fortunate. “One of the teammates in front of me crashed while trying to pick up a musette and I went to the ground, too,” said Valverde. “More than sweeping the ground, it was a sharp blow, with no bruises. I hit a teammate’s bike and hit my back, but I could recover and go ahead. I started the climb well behind and because of that, I’m happy with the time I lost. Seven seconds is nothing. My back hurts a bit after the crash, but I hope it’s not serious and I can recover well. I’m not feeling really sad after losing the jersey — it was more that I wanted to win this stage. I couldn’t, but this is cycling, things like that happen and we must carry on.”
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) now sits second on GC, three seconds back, and his teammate, Valverde, is third, 11 seconds behind the Australian leader.
In the first 10 kilometers, five riders broke away from the field: Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), Danilo Wyss (BMC), Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural), Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM Cycling), and Jerome Cousin (Europcar)
After only another 10 kilometers of racing, the gap was more than five minutes.
At one point, the gap was as large as eight minutes over the field.
Movistar took up the chase to defend Valverde’s lead, controlling the pace and keeping their leaders out of harm’s way.
“When I saw the gap come down to five minutes, I knew it would be really hard,” Wyss said. “It was hot, and yesterday and today were some hard days. But I think it was a bit better to be in the break. I could get some bottles and refresh myself.”
With 75 kilometers left, the break’s advantage had fallen to 2:30, though the leaders were still working cooperatively.
Orica-GreenEdge also chipped in at the front of the field, working on behalf of sprinter Michael Matthews.
As the gap fell, Bonet set off alone, but the peloton brought him back with 30 kilometers to go.
Technical, hilly finale
Just outside of 10 kilometers to go, Lotto-Belisol’s Adam Hansen attacked and quickly got a 22-second lead on the field. However, the sprinters’ teams weren’t about to let him steal the day.
With eight kilometers to go, Katusha and Omega Pharma-Quick Step took to the front to fight for position.
Although the finish was 2.5 kilometers away, the race was on for a sharp right turn onto a narrow bridge in the lead-in to the finale.
Katusha strung out the peloton and looked to be in control.
When the peloton hit the final climb at 1.2km to go, Giant-Shimano moved to the front, but their train was quickly overwhelmed by Katusha.
As the front of the field saw one kilometer to go, Rodriguez got a gap, but it was too far out from the finish.
He was overhauled by Martin on the final push to the line.
Then, with the finish only meters away, Matthews burst past the Irishman on the right side, winning the stage and capturing the overall lead with the first-place time bonus.
“We couldn’t ask for more,” said Matthews. “We went into [today's stage] as one of the favorite teams. I had to burn my guys early to chase down the break. [It] wouldn’t have been possible to win without them. [Rodriguez] attacked, but I didn’t think we would catch him. It was up to me to get on Dan Martin’s wheel. For me and the team, it was a 110-percent effort, we delivered, just like we planned.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know I was doing the Giro or the Vuelta, the plan was to do just the Tour. So the backup plan has been better. You get smashed down sometimes, and you have to work to get back to your level. This year, I’ve shown it’s not the end of the world to have a bad crash. You can come back stronger than you were before. With the team around me, from the staff and soigneurs, they’re really motivated to get you back to your level. To win a stage and wear the red jersey, it’s a dream come true. I love this race, I love Spain.”