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Michael Matthews notched his first 2015 Giro sprint win on Monday, racing to victory in Sestri Levanti after surviving a tough climb in the second half of the 136km race.
“What more can you ask for?” Matthews said after the race. “I’m racing with the pink jersey on my back, and at the end I win the stage.
“After the team time trial win, today was another big target for us. We reconned the stage last week so we knew what to expect, and we pulled it off.”
Orica placed two riders in a dangerous breakaway that formed after the day’s last climb, a category 2 ride over the Passo della Scoglina.
However, the race was fated to come back together for a bunch sprint.
Orica cued up Matthews with a fierce lead-out by Simon Gerrans, and Matthews jumped with about 150 meters left, to finish ahead of Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing). Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) was third.
Pavel Kotchetkov (Katusha) attacked out of an early break of 25 riders, over the last big climb of the day, the category 2 Barbagelata. He dove into the twisting descent alone to extend his lead.
Midway down the mountain, GC hopeful Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) crashed heavily on a sweeping corner with about 40km to go. The situation looked dire as race medics put him on a stretcher to be evacuated via ambulance. Fortunately, the race doctor reported that his injuries were not life-threatening, and that he was conscious.
After the descent, the chase group included: Gilbert, Maciej Paterski and Branislau Samoilau (CCC Sprandi-Polkowice), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal), Jesús Herrada (Movistar), Esteban Chaves and Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), Francesco Gavazzi (Southeast), and Davide Villella (Cannondale-Garmin).
With 25 kilometers remaining, the solo breakaway had 30 seconds over the chasers and a one-minute lead on the peloton.
With 20km to race, the gap had fallen to 16 seconds as the chase group picked up speed.
Paterski, Clarke, and Hansen then escaped from the chase group and caught Kotchetkov, just outside of 10km to go.
The peloton whipped up the pace, caught the remainder of the break and then caught the four leaders with 3.3km left.
Tinkoff-Saxo positioned its train at the front coming into the finale, to protect overall race favorite Alberto Contador.
Inside of one kilometer to go, Astana took to the front to drive it home.
Orica pushed up on the barriers on the left side, with Gerrans winding up the sprint for Matthews, who was positioned inside of the top 10, on Felline’s wheel.
As Felline opened up his sprint, Matthews jumped with about 150m to go and took the win, his first in this year’s Giro.
“It was quite hard,” Matthews said after the stage. “The final climb, I just tried to save my legs as much as possible. … It was just to get to the bottom of the climb at the front and just drift toward the back to save my legs for the sprint.”
Matthews picked up a 10-second time bonus for the stage win to stretch his overall lead, which he took possession of on Sunday after he finished seventh on stage 2.
The race continues Tuesday with a lumpy 150km stage from Chiavari to La Spezia.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.