Volta a Catalunya stage 1: Michael Matthews battles to uphill sprint win
It is the Australian's first win in nearly two years, coming off an impressive fourth-place at Milan-San Remo.
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Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) won the opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya on Monday in an uphill drag race against Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious).
Launching his sprint on the right-hand side of the road with Colbrelli on the left, Matthews had just about more power than the Italian who was second, with Quentin Pacher (Groupama-FDJ) taking third.
It is Matthews’ first victory since August 2020, and confirmation that the Australian is back to his best after an impressive fourth-place finish at Milan-San Remo on Saturday.
“It’s been a long time,” Matthews said at the post-race interview. “You can see how much this means to the team. It’s been a long time without a victory for me now, so to come back to a finish that I knew well from a couple of years ago [Matthews also won here in Saint Feliu de Guixols at the 2019 edition – ed.] to now win again, it means so much.
“My wife and my dog are here to support me, it’s so nice to be able to cross the finish line and give my wife a massive hug. It just means so much.
“This course suits me quite well. A hard race, and then an uphill sprint to the finish…knowing the finish from a couple of years ago also helped me.”
Earlier in the day, Matthews’ BikeExchange-Jayco team brought the stage to life by splitting the race into echelons.
“The team did a great job today, we split in the crosswind. It was a little bit too far to go through, so we decided to back off and save it for the final,” he said.
The stage started out normally enough, with a six-man group going clear in rainy conditions, featuring Marco Brenner (Team DSM), Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education-EasyPost), Carlos Canal, Antonio Jesus Soto (both Euskaltel-Euskadi), Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), and Raul Garcia Pierna (Equipo Kern Pharma).
The rain eased off, but the wind didn’t, and halfway into the stage echelons formed and the peloton split into pieces, with a front group of around 20 riders going clear and catching the initial breakaway.
Along with Matthews’ BikeExchange-Jayco squad, Israel-PremierTech were the other main beneficiaries, with almost their entire line-ups present in the front group, including their respective GC leaders Simon Yates and Michael Woods.
Jumbo-Visma had representation with Rohan Dennis and Steven Kruijswijk, and Ineos Grenadiers placed one rider in Pavel Sivakov, but the likes of Alejandro Valverde’s Movistar and Arkéa-Samsic’s Nairo Quintana missed out altogether.
Ultimately, there were enough teams left behind with an incentive to want to bring the lead group back, and after a committed chase, the catch was made, 50km from the finish.
In the easing up that followed, Caicedo — who had been in the day’s initial break — took advantage by jumping clear from the peloton, and was joined by Pieter Serry (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Theo Delacroix (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert-Matériaux), Jonas Iversby Hvideberg (Team DSM) and Alex Molenaar (Burgos-BH), but not an unfortunate Nans Peters (AG2R-Citroën), who punctured having made the juncture to Caicedo.
Although Uno-X at first seemed intent on chasing it down, the gap to this new leading group was allowed to grow to greater than one minute.
With the rain drizzling once more, the break started to split up on the final classified climb of the day, the Cat. 3 Alt de Romanya, with only Serry, Armitai, and Hvideberg remaining together at the top, 25km from the finish.
Delacroix rejoined on the descent, but their days were numbered as the peloton bared down on them, with Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious) doing a long turn at the front to bring it down to 15 seconds with 15km left to ride.
Following help from his Bahrain-Victorious teammates, and then Jumbo-Visma, the catch was made 8km from the finish, setting the stage for a sprint finish.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl took control in the final kilometers for their man Andrea Bagioli, although it was Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) who was the final domestique to lead out the sprint, before Colbrelli and Matthews burst from behind his wheel to sprint for second and first.
Shortly before Carapaz had been out the back of the peloton following a crash on the descent of Alta de Romanya, so he did well to return to the very front of the race.
Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) was another crash victim from earlier in the day, but he too recovered to finish in the bunch.
Ultimately, none of the major pre-race favorites lost any significant time, ahead of another punchy stage Tuesday.
Results will be available once stage has completed.