Michael Matthews Wins Final Stage of La Vuelta a España in Madrid
Michael Matthews added a second Grand Tour stage win to his palmarès in Madrid. With strong support from his ORICA-GreenEDGE teammates, the 22-year-old sprinted to victory on the last stage of the Vuelta a España, outkicking Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp) and Nikias Arndt (Argos-Shimano) to the line. In his first Grand Tour, Matthews won two stages, spent two days in the green points jersey and earned the combativity award on the final day of racing.
“The Vuelta could not have finished off any better for the team,” said Matthews. “We lost a fair few guys over the last few weeks, but everyone who was left did their job perfectly today. They put me in the right position to launch myself for the sprint.”
“It’s been an amazing tour,” Matthews added. “I can’t imagine a better ending than this. Two stage wins and time in the green jersey at my first Grand Tour is very special for me. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The wins aren’t just for me. They’re for the whole team. When the boys do what they do for me, it’s an unbelievable feeling to finish off their work.”
As is customary, the 21st stage of the Vuelta enjoyed a parade like atmosphere from the stage start in Leganés. The 144 riders remaining in the race after a difficult three weeks of racing celebrated their accomplishments as they shared champagne, photo ops and congratulations as they made their way toward Madrid for eight laps of the 5.7km circuit course
“While it’s nice to have a more relaxed start, it sometimes makes it a bit more difficult to focus,” noted Sport Director Matt Wilson. “The guys are rolling along at a slow speed on really tired legs. The kilometres pass painfully slowly. Without anything to worry about or think about or hold their attention, it makes for the longest start to a stage.”
Overall winner Chris Horner and his RadioShack Leopard Trek teammates came to fore as the peloton entered the finish circuit. Euskaltel-Euskadi, the only team to finish with nine riders, led the field across the finish line at the end of the first lap. The action picked up inside the final 40km when Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) launched the first attack on lap two.
Aramendia quickly established a small advantage over the field. He was joined by Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) on lap three. The peloton allowed the two leaders to remain out front on a short, easily controlled leash.
“We’ve only had five riders here this last week, so we needed to use them carefully,” said Wilson. “The plan was to try to only use Christian [Meier] in the chase and save Mitch [Docker], Clarkey [Simon Clarke] and Leigh [Howard] to work in the sprint. A lot of teams wanted a sprint, so we were lucky to be able to do that.”
Meier worked with riders from Garmin, Cannondale, Lampre Merida, BMC and Argos-Shimano to control the gap to Aramendia and Vanotti. Shortly after the start of the bell lap, the peloton overtook the breakaway. The field readied for the sprint finish.
“Because of the technical nature of the circuit and hectic nature of the sprint, we had to use Leigh and Clarkey a bit earlier than we had planned,” noted Wilson. “In the last kilometre, only Mitch remained with Bling. Mitch had the presence of mind to jump on the Argos-Shimano train. It was the perfect move for us.”
“The boys were brilliant,” Matthews added. “The last lap might not have gone exactly to plan but it worked out perfectly. Simon put Leigh, Mitch and me in position with about 4km left to race. Leigh took over after that. He did a huge turn before leaving me with Mitch. When the Argos train came underneath us, Mitch latched onto that. I got to the 200m mark in second wheel. Then, I opened my sprint.”
Matthews was full of praise for the work that his teammates did to deliver him to victory. Naming them each by name and pointing to their specific contributions, it was clear that he considered his win a true team effort.
“With three riders around me all day and Christian riding on the front of the bunch to keep things together and under control, I had nothing to worry about until it was time to sprint,” said Matthews. “Christian rode like four men today. He’s so strong. He kept everything under control for us. The whole day was perfect. I couldn’t have done what I did without the team. I can’t thank them enough.”
It was an inarguably successful Vuelta for ORICA-GreenEDGE who came into the final Grand Tour of the season chasing stage wins and preparing for the Road World Championships. In his race preview, Wilson said he would leave Madrid satisfied if the team had secured a stage win. His squad gave him two.
“Most teams experience some bad luck and some good luck during the course of a Grand Tour,” said Wilson. “We definitely had our moments with both. We got really unlucky with a few crashes during the first week. We certainly never planned to have only five riders during the third week.”
“Even with the injuries and illness, it’s been a fantastic Vuelta for the team,” Wilson continued. “For any team that isn’t concerned about the general classification, two stage wins is a success. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the guys. I’m proud of all of them.”