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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (VN) — Michael Matthews turned his “bling” pink in stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday.
The Aussie finished eighth in the Belfast sprint, behind stage winner Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), and took the leader’s maglia rosa from teammate Svein Tuft.
“I’m ready to get up there on the podium and put it on,” said Matthews, whose nickname is “Bling.”
“It’s been a dream of mine to wear the pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia and now it’s a dream come true.”
Matthews spoke before having a chance to wipe his face clean of the grit from the island’s northeastern coast. It had been a hard 219 kilometers mixed with rain and sun.
He had the help of Mitch Docker racing through the final corners to the finish line. Matthews lost ground but managed eighth in front of the city hall. He grabbed his brake levers quickly after and slowed down while the dream quickly sat in.
“It’s amazing,” he said while coming to a stop. The rain, which had likewise stopped, re-started.
The 23-year-old, in his fourth year as a professional, is racing his only second grand tour. Last year, in the Vuelta a España, he won two stages. Now, he has a Giro’s maglia rosa to add to his collection.
Only five Aussies before him have been able to claim the jersey. To join them, Matthews had to finish in the sprint group and ahead of his teammate. Since he is on the exact same time with Tuft, organiser RCS Sport gave the jersey to the highest placed rider.
Back home in Canberra, the maglia rosa will join a rainbow jersey, won in Geelong, Australia, at the under-23 worlds in 2010.
“I have the under-23 jersey, which is great because I took it in front of my home country in Australia,” Matthews said. “I also had the green jersey in the Vuelta for a few days last year, after winning my first grand-tour stages. Now, we can’t go too much further from here. It’s surely is a dream come true. There’s nothing more I can say.”
Rabobank signed him afterward, but Australia’s Orica, which brought him aboard ahead of last season, got the best out of him. Besides the Vuelta wins and the pink jersey, it helped him to a stage in the Tour of the Basque Country last month.
Instead of Matt Goss, who will be racing the Amgen Tour of California, Orica put its weight behind Matthews for the Giro. He helped the team win the time trial yesterday and switched gears for Saturday’s sprint.
“I went to accelerate, but I had no legs in the finish,” Matthews said. “We kept the pink jersey, though.”
Matthews was not concerned about the near miss because he has other plans. Besides the pink jersey, he wants to win stages five and six when the Giro is back in its homeland.
“We put a gap on the teams behind us in the team time trial yesterday. We should be able to keep the pink jersey for at least a week. That was the goal from the start, and we’ll definitely do everything we can to keep it.”