Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla) came close to delivering another stage victory at this year’s Giro d’Italia when on stage 17 he came ever so close to swinging the bunch dash for the line his way, even though going head to head with the pure sprinters is no longer part of his preferred play book.
It was an early jump in the sprint for the Australian that almost carried him through to the line. Michael Hepburn led Matthews through the final corners and onto the finishing straight where he launched at around 250m to go, to try get a clear run and put the sprint specialists on the back foot.
“That’s what I really needed, some open wind,” Matthews said in an interview with Australian broadcaster SBS. “When it comes to the boxing match in the final there, when I’ve got to box my way out and do my sprint, I don’t really like doing that but when the team does an amazing job like they did today … they gave me fresh wind and then I could actually do my own sprint.”
Matthews has already won a stage at this year’s Giro d’Italia, claiming stage 3 from a reduced peloton in an uphill sprint, and just fell short of making it a second when Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious) quickly closed in. Matthews, with a victorious Dainese on one side and runner up Milan on the other, took third in the three way throw to the line in Caorle.
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“After a really flat boring stage for me to come off with a third place, not being a pure sprinter, I think we can be happy with that,” said Matthews in a separate interview with Cycling Pro Net.
The strong results at the Giro mark a positive turn in a season filled with challenges for Matthews, including COVID-19 at Paris-Nice and a bad crash at the Tour of Flanders. It was such an unwelcome start to 2023 – particularly after a strong finish to 2022 had bolstered hopes for the season ahead– that the 32-year-old had been entertaining thoughts of early retirement. However, the rider in his 13th WorldTour season couldn’t have been more positive after Wednesday’s podium result, having said of the atmosphere in the Jayco-AlUla team bus that “we got third place and it feels like a win”.
“We are just in really good and high spirits in this team at the moment and just helping each other as much as we can,” Matthews told SBS. “Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we never miss that fighting spirit.”
On top of making it onto the podium against the bunch sprint specialists – even though Matthews is more inclined to target breaks or technical reduced bunch sprints at this point in his career – the team’s GC card Eddie Dunbar also made it safely through another day. The Irish rider, who is taking on just his second Grand Tour, is sitting in fifth place on the overall ahead of a trio of crucial stages for the overall contenders before the race concludes with a sprint stage in Rome on Sunday.
“We have got three hard days to survive now but we have got Eddie in really good shape and we are just super motivated to support him as much as we can because he is doing such an amazing job,” Matthews told Cycling Pro Net. “For all of us it is a massive boost going into these final days knowing that we have Eddie in a really good position to finish off this GC run.”