BERGEN, Norway (AFP) — Australia’s Michael Matthews was left ruing a tactical blunder as he had to settle for bronze at the world road race championships won for the third year in a row by Peter Sagan.
Matthews was unable to challenge Sagan and silver-medalist Alexander Kristoff in the sprint finish to the 267.5km race in Bergen on Sunday and afterward admitted he’d made a mistake on the final of 12 laps around the street circuit.
There was a climb around 15km from the finish where Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe and Gianni Moscon of Italy escaped, but both were caught before the finish.
Matthews had also tried to attack that climb and he said he later paid for those efforts.
“What I would change [is] I wouldn’t attack so many times on the final climb,” said the 26-year-old, known as ‘Bling’ for his flashy lifestyle. “I didn’t know it would come down to such a huge bunch sprint. I think I wasted a lot of energy.
“I was trying to go with moves and attacking myself; if I could take something back I think I would sit back with these guys [Sagan and Kristoff] and cruise up the climb.”
When it came to the sprint finale, Kristoff launched his first, but Sagan was ideally placed on his wheel and just had enough strength and speed to inch past the Norwegian and snatch victory in a photo finish.
“Unfortunately I was just not fast enough to keep him behind me,” said Kristoff. “It was close, I did my maximum, I must be happy with the result, but for sure I’m disappointed. “When you see who won it’s not easy to beat him, he won a lot of big races and races typically like this.
“I don’t really know how I could have done anything more — I did a good sprint, I was not going slower at the end. Maybe he was just a little fresher and faster at the end.”
Sagan’s victory in some way helped make up for the disappointment of being kicked off July’s Tour de France after a crash with sprint rival Mark Cavendish during a hectic finish to stage 4.
It meant he missed out on winning a sixth straight green jersey — which Matthews took — but Sagan said he’d long made his peace with that issue.
“The Tour de France was never in my mind, it was not happy for me, but I was racing the world championships today — it’s different,” said the Slovak. “I won twice (before), I’m here for the world championships.
“Maybe every time that happens something bad in your life it’s for something good — you have to see that always in an optimistic way.”
Sagan admitted that when Alaphilippe attacked, he thought his chances were over. “I was watching the race from the back and I said, ‘OK we go for third, fourth or fifth place,” said Sagan. “For sure I didn’t think anymore for the title. “We [only] realized in the group in the last kilometer (that) we (would) catch Alaphilippe.”
The Frenchman had found himself alone in the lead 4.5km from the finish, but he couldn’t hold on.
“I believed, I gave everything I had,” said Alaphilippe, who finished 10th. “I really wanted it, I had the legs, but that’s the way it goes.”