Michael Matthews opened his 2015 account on Wednesday in Paris-Nice, winning a punchy sprint in stage 3 and claiming the overall race lead.
Matthews’ Orica-GreenEdge team dominated the lead-out at the end of the 179-kilometer stage from Saint-Amand-Montrond to Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioul, setting up the Australian perfectly in the final kilometer.
“Full credit to the team for the win, it was all them,” Matthews said in a team statement. “I just had to do the last 200 meters, and that was probably the easy part.
“From four kilometers to go we dominated the race and we showed our strength in the lead out and no one could come near us with the horse power we had.”
The early break was a trio of riders: Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), and Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Séché Environnement).
The escape’s advantage dipped under three minutes with 30 kilometers remaining.
Etixx-Quick-Step, Katusha, and Team Sky all contributed to the pace-making in the peloton. With 25 kilometers left, the break had only a two-minute lead.
Coming into the final 20km, a circuit around the finish city, the lead trio had a mere 55-second advantage. Soon, Gilbert sat up and returned to the peloton. With about 10km to go, the catch was made.
Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) was quick with a counter-attack. He was soon joined by two Ag2r La Mondiale riders, Jan Bakelants and Romain Bardet.
The new break quickly extended its lead to 16 seconds. But with two kilometers to go, the three riders were brought back to the field.
Orica-GreenEdge took control of the front early in the lead-in to the sprint, cueing up for Matthews, who was suited for the short hill prior to the line. At one kilometer to go, Lampre-Merida tried to move to the front, but Orica would not allow it.
Four Orica riders strung out the front into the last kicker. Matthews opened up his sprint, as Trek Factory Racing’s Giacomo Nizzolo challenged him on the left side, and handily won the dash ahead of the Italian. Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) was third.
Matthews claimed the overall lead with bonus seconds, and is now one second ahead of Etixx-Quick-Step’s Kwiatkowski. Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) was bumped to third place, two seconds behind the new leader.
“To put it all together and take the win and the jersey in one day, it’s really a special day,” Matthews said.