Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) has won the third stage of the 2014 Vuelta a Espana and now leads the race.
The Australian, winner of two stages of this year’s Giro d’Italia, a race in which he wore the pink jersey of race leader for six stages, claimed arguably the most impressive victory of his career today by out-duelling a host of GC contenders on the technical uphill finish into Arcos de la Frontera.
Matthews provided a perfect finish for his Orica-GreenEDGE team, which had controlled the bunch for almost all of the 197.8km run from Cádiz.
The 23-year-old sprinter, known to his team-mates as ‘Bling’, later Tweeted: “Will be a day to remember: 200k on the front from the boys. What an honour to finish it for such an amazing team @ORICA_GreenEDGE. Speechless.”
Matthews’ impeccable timing foiled what might have been the perfect comeback for Ireland’s Daniel Martin. The Garmin-Sharp man again found himself on the flipside of a coin that had spun in favour of his Australian rivals.
After a perfectly-judged attack at the denouement of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April, Martin’s title defence foundered as he slipped from his bike in the final corner, clearing the path to victory for Orica-GreenEDGE leader, Simon Gerrans.
And in his previous Grand Tour appearance, Martin crashed heavily in the opening stage team time trial of the Giro d’Italia in Belfast, nullifying what might have been a serious challenge to the eventual fastest time, one set by…Orica-GreenEDGE.
Today’s thrilling denouement showed encouraging form from a host of GC contenders, including Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who was third, 2011 Tour de France champion, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who finished sixth, and pre-race favourite, Chris Froome (Team Sky), who rounded out the top 10.
Froome’s performance saw him hold off some of the strongest riders in the race. Giro d’Italia runner-up, Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) and champion, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), reversed their order in the Italian national tour, separated by home favourite, Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing). Sanchez’s countryman, and the man shouldering the greatest burden of expectation, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), finished sixteenth, with the same time as Matthews.
Froome and Contador have played down their chances ahead of the Vuelta, with both men returning to action after crashing out of the Tour de France: Froome on stage five with two broken wrists, and Contador on stage 10 with a broken tibia. But both showed impressive sharpness today.
Team Sky’s sports director, Dario Cioni, said: “It was a tough day and the idea was to be at the front for the final. It didn’t go 100 per cent to plan but Chris was still well positioned going into the final climb. That was the main goal. He then showed that he’s got the legs with a good finish.”
Tomorrow’s 164.7km fourth stage from Mairena del Alcor ends with a fast downhill finish to Córdoba.