New leader of the Giro d’Italia, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), admits German sprint star Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) is unstoppable on the flat stages, but believes the Australian team can keep the maglia rosa for a week.
Matthews replaced team-mate Svein Tuft as overall leader after finishing eighth on stage two in Belfast – where Marcel Kittel sprinted to his maiden Giro d’Italia success.
‘Bling’ now leads the general classification by three seconds, with Orica-GreenEDGE locking down the top six thanks to their stage-winning team time trial effort on Friday night.
But despite admitting Kittel will take some beating when the roads are flat – as they will be for stage three from Armagh to Dublin – he hopes to collect stage wins once the race heads to mainland Italy.
“It will take hills to stop Marcel Kittel I think,” he admitted. “He is definitely the fastest guy in the bunch here and he has shown that.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s warm or cold – he’s unbeatable in a flat sprint. I think just trying to be around him for the first few days is the key and then hopefully conserve some energy for stages five and six, which are my goals for the Giro this year.
“They are the ones which suit me best of all the stages here so yeah, I will be focussing on those.”
The Australian team started as favourites for the team time trial, having arrived in Belfast for the Grande Partenza with a squad well-suited to racing against the clock.
Victory on the tricky circuit, which took riders out to Stormont before finishing in front of Belfast City Hall, meant Matthews only had to compete in the sprint to move into the overall lead on stage two.
And stage two, conducted mostly on the Northern Irish headland before a bunch sprint in the capital, provided no dramas, allowing him to do just that.
Matthews explained: “We planned to win the team time trial with the team we had here.
“We brought our strongest team for this discipline so the plan was to give Svein the jersey for his birthday yesterday and to thank him for all the hard work he does for us.
“Then it was for me to try and run a place in the sprint and take the jersey and see how long we can keep it for.”
Putting Matthews into the pink jersey is just the latest success in what is proving to be a great year for the Orica-GreenEDGE team.
Alongside the two pink jerseys, Simon Gerrans won at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Adam Yates at the Tour of Turkey and Michael Albasini earned three stage wins at the Tour de Romandie.
And Matthews insists the team have no plans to surrender the maglia rosa any time soon.
“I guess after I found out I was doing the Giro, the plan was to wear the pink jersey,” he said.
“I had high hopes coming into it. Now, we really did well in the team time trial and have opened up a gap over a rivals, we should be able to keep it for maybe a week.
“I’ve won the under-23 world’s jersey in Australia, which was amazing in front of a home crowd.
“The next biggest jersey after that would be maybe the green jersey at the Vuelta last year, which I got to wear for three days.
“And to wear the pink jersey in my first Giro d’Italia – it really is a dream come true.”
Do you think ‘Bling’ can keep the maglia rosa this week? Put him in your Fantasy Giro d’Italia squad here.