Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) sprinted to victory on stage three of the Tour of the Basque Country after a superb lead-out from Simon Gerrans.
A fast-paced finale to the stage saw Gerrans lead-out a huge sprint for Matthews, with the Aussie sprinter outdoing the likes of Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Kevin Reza (Team Europcar).
With few opportunities for the sprinters, Swift and Matthews’ enjoyed great support from their team-mates in the bunch, but devoid of a lead-out the Yorkshireman was unable to follow his stage two second place victory.
After stage two was won from a phenomenally strong break, only Ruben Fernandez (Caja Rural) was able to escape the attentions of the peloton on the uphill start to the stage.
Fernandez’s lone escape earned the UCI Pro Continental team plenty of exposure but even with a sedate pace being set in the bunch it never looked likely to succeed.
Sky, for Swift, and Orica-GreenEDGE, for Matthews, took turns at the front while Tinkoff-Saxo also protected Alberto Contador towards the head of the group.
It was Josh Edmondson (Team Sky) leading the way when the catch was made with 33.5km to go, while Lampre-Merida also gathered towards the front.
Sky set the tempo on the first category three climb in Gasteiz as the peloton remained bunched, only David Villella’s attack at the summit – to claim mountains points – disturbing the tempo.
On the descent the speed, led by stage two winner Tony Martin, touched 80km per hour, and the peloton remained together and travelling at a great speed as they carried the momentum into the final climb of the day.
Sky continued to lead the way on the climb, but several other teams massed at the front of the bunch to keep the pace high as riders finally started to be shelled out the back on the Zaldiaran.
Yukiya Arashiro (Team Europcar) suffered a crash, having been sat in a decent position overall prior to the stage, but was rallied back in superbly by his team-mates.
Having crested the climb with several teams at the front however, the ferocious descending speed caused further splits in the leading group as they drove in to the corners at high speed.
It came back together on the final, flat finish however with Belkin leading the way into the final three kilometres.
Despite roundabouts littering the final stretch, the final run-in, Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Belkin) led his team-mates around the road furniture at great speed.
It was Orica-GreenEDGE best placed to lead out the sprint however, with Gerrans putting in a huge drive with Matthews on his wheel.
Swift initially found himself boxed in but recovered to tail Matthews, while Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) attacked on the other side of the road.
It was Matthews who sprinted to victory however, seizing a rare opportunity for sprinters at this Tour.
Tour of the Basque Country: stage one – result
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 4.12.46hrs
2) Kevin Reza (FRA) – Team Europcar – ST
3) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky
5) Paul Martens (GER) – Belkin Pro Cycling
6) Yakiya Arashiro (JAP) – Team Europcar
7) Danielle Ratto (ITA) – Cannondale
8) Maxim Iglinskiy (KAZ) – Astana
9) Oscar Gasparotto (ITA) – Astana
10) Tosh van der Sande (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 12.54.03hrs
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +14”
3) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +34”
4) Damiano Cunego (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +36”
5) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing – ST
6) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
7) Yury Trofimov (RUS) – Katusha
8) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky
9) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff-Saxo +54”
10) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Astana – ST