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Having been given the perfect lead-out, Matthews turned out to be in a class of hiw own in the uphill sprint on stage 3 of Paris-Nice, holding off Cimolai and Nizzolo to take both the stage win and the overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

DAVIDE CIMOLAI

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GIACOMO NIZZOLO

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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PARIS - NICE

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11.03.2015 @ 16:44 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) confirmed his status as one of the best riders in the world for uphill sprints when he took a very dominant win in stage 3 Paris-Nice. The Australian benefited from an excellent lead-out that brought him into the perfect position from where he launched his powerful sprint to easily hold off Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), taking both the stage win and the leader’s jersey.

 

Last year Michael Matthews won uphill sprints in both the Vuelta a Espana and the Giro d’Italia to prove his status as one of the leader contenders in this very special specialty. Those skills made him one to watch in today’s third stage of Paris-Nice which ended with a tough 500m climb to the finish.

 

Matthews and his Orica-GreenEDGE team had made a special plan for the year which saw him start his season later than usual. In fact, the French race was his first of the year and so he went into the event without knowing what to expect.

 

With a great 8th place in the prologue, he got his confidence boosted but as usual he suffered a bit in the first two sprints which were more for the real sprinters than a versatile athletes like Matthews. With toay’s stage finishing with that small climb, however, it was obviously a big goal for him.

 

In the finale, things got tricky though as a strong trio with Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) and the Ag2r duo of Romain Bardet and Jan Bakelants had formed on a small climb with 8km to go. While Michal Golas (Etixx-QuickStep), Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) and a Giant-Alpecin rider worked in the peloton, the trio increased their advantage and they turned onto the big road with 6km to go with a gap of 15 seconds.

 

That was where it got difficult though as Giant-Alpecin now lined out their train on the front and the gap started to come down. This was the sign for Orica-GreenEDGE to kick into action and with an impressive showing they passed the Germans.

 

Christian Meier did the early work with Simon Clarke . While the rest of the sprint trains battled for position behind them, they started to get closer to the leaders and when Michael Albasini hit the front with 2km to go, it was all over for the attackers.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE remained in complete control and they held off a strong surge for the Giant train who tried to take over with Roy Curvers. They got some welcome assistance from a lone Trek rider who had positioned Giacomo Nizzolo on Matthews’ wheel and wanted to keep the pace high.

 

As they passed the flamme rouge, Mitchell Docker took over and none of the other trains managed to pass the fast-going Australian machine. Daryl Impey was next in line before Jens Keukeleire made the lead-out on the steepest section of the climb.

 

Nizzolo and Davide Cimolai were positioned on his wheel as they went through a tricky chicane with 300m to go and from there they tried to anticipate Matthews. However, the Australian reacted immediately and he easily distanced the two Italians who had to settle for the minor podium spots, with Cimolai taking second.

 

As he had picked up a few bonus seconds in the first two stages, Matthews went into the stage just 9 seconds behind overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep). Hence, the 10 bonus seconds for the win was enough to elevate him to the top position in the overall standings and he now goes into tomorrow’s stage with a one-second lead over Kwiatkowski.

 

It will be tough to defend the jersey though as stage 4 is the queen stage.  After a moderately hilly start, the finale is very tough as the riders will tackle five smaller climbs in the final third before they go up the big Croix de Chaubouret climb in the finale.

 

A tricky finale

After two flat stages, the sprinters were expected to get one final chance to shine in stage 3 which brought them over 179km from Saint-Amand-Montron to Saint-Pourcain-sur-Siole. After a flat start, the terrain got a bit hillier at the midpoint where the riders tackled three category 3 climbs before they reached the finishing city. The race ended with one lap of a flat 19.5km finishing circuit that ended with 500m of slightly ascending roads.

 

The 158 remaining riders took the start on a cloudy day in France and like in the previous days there was barely any wind to challenge them. Like in the previous stages, there was no aggressive mindset in the group and not even the Bretagne riders were keen to attack straight from the gun.

 

Gilbert on the move

The peloton rolled along at a leisurely pace until they reached the 9km mark. Here Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Florian Vachon (Bretagne) finally launched the first attack of the day and they were immediately allowed to build an advantage.

 

After 10km of racing, they were 45 seconds ahead and it seemed that the early break had been established. However, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Antoine Duchesne (Europcar) regretted that they hadn’t made it into the move and took off in pursuit.

 

Bonus seconds for Jungels

At the 14km mark, the two chasers were 2.25 behind while the peloton was at 3.10. Wiggins realized that his attempt made no real sense and he decided to drop back to the peloton. At the 20km mark, Duchesne had brought the gap down to 2.05 while the peloton kept it at 3.10 but he too realized that he wouldn’t make it.

 

When he was back in the fold, however, Trek Factory Racing decided that they would try to go for a bonus second for GC rider Bob Jungels and so the Luxembourger attacked with his teammate Gert Steegmans. While Vachon beat Gilbert in the battle for the 3 seconds, Jungels managed to take third place 3.20 later.

 

Gilbert takes the mountains jersey

With the sprint out of the way, the Trek duo dropped back to the peloton which now took it very easy. At the 36km mark, the gap had gone out to 5.15 but that was as much as the two escapees would get.

 

The peloton upped the pace and after 47km of racing, they had reduced their deficit to 3.05. Meanwhile, the riders hit the bottom of the Cote de la Croix de Chene where Gilbert beat Vachon to move into the lead in the mountains classification. Behind, Anthony Roux (FDJ) attacked with the Bretagne duo Jonathan Hivert and Anthony Delaplace and the former managed to pick up the final point at the top, 2.55 behind the leading duo. The peloton was now 3.55 behind.

 

Voeckler bridges across

The chasers dropped back to the peloton which again accelerated. The gap quickly dropped to less than two minutes and after 71.5km of racing, it was down to less than a minute.

 

Sensing that the escapees were within reach, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) bridged the gap at the 74km mark and this gave the move new life. 3km later, the trio had extended their advantage to 1.35.

 

The chase gets serious

Stijn Vandenbergh was just setting a steady pace for Etixx-QuickStep in the peloton and so the gap started to grow quickly. With 83km to go, the escapees were 4.30 ahead and when Gilbert led Vachon and Voeckler over the top of the Col de la Bosse, they were 5 minutes ahead.

 

The front trio were riding very fast, not saving anything for later, and this forced Etixx-QuickStep to react. Nikolas Maes joined forces with Vandenbergh and now the chase got serious.

 

Giant-Alpecin start to chase

Their work paid off and when they started the final climb with 66km to go, the gap was 4.45. Meanwhile, the fast pace and the narrow roads made the peloton extremely nervous and there was a big fight for position behind the Etixx riders, with Wiggins working hard to keep Sky in a good position.

 

Going up the climb, Zico Waeytens (Giant-Alpecin) started to chase with Maes and Vandenbergh but it didn’t make much of a difference. For a while, the gap stayed around 5 minutes while Gilbert again led Vachon and Voeckler over the top of the climb.

 

Katusha start to chase

With 47km to go, Alexander Kristoff showed his intentions when Egor Silin (Katusha) started to work with Vandenbergh, Maes and Waeytens. That tipped the balance in favour of the peloton and with 44km to go, the gap was only 4.25.

 

With 40km to go, it was 3.50 and it didn’t make much of a difference that Vandenbergh blew up. With 33km to go, the gap was 3.05 and just 4km later, it was only 2.35.

 

Lotto Soudal come to the fore

Maes and Waeytens disappeared from the front and instead, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) started to work with Silin. Those two riders were strong enough to reduce the gap as the many small climbs started to take their toll on the leaders.

 

With 21km to go, the gap was only 1.05 and now Bak also started to chase for Lotto Soudal. Moments later Vachon led Gilbert and Voeckler across the finish line to start the lap of the finishing circuit and win the final intermediate sprint.

 

Gilbert sits up

Alaphilippe, Bak, Silian and Michal Golas (Etixx-QuickStep) were working in the peloton and as the gap was now down to 35 seconds, Gilbert decided to sit up. The front duo dug a bit deeper to keep the gap at 30 seconds for a while. Meanwhile, an impressive Waeytens took another turn on the front.

 

With 13km to go, Bak, Golas and Alaphilippe had the break in sight as they hit a small climb. Here Vachon decided to sit up while Tiralongo attacked and quickly bridged the gap to Voeckler. On the next small climb, they were joined by Bakelants and Bardet and while Voeckler fell back, the trio built an advantage of 15 seconds before it all came back together for the expected sprint.

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