They had twice won in Vitoria. “GreenEDGE Wins in the Green City,” the headlines proclaimed. The pressure was on to make it three for three, and the Australian outfit did not disappoint. From the early chase work to the final-lead, the ORICA-GreenEDGE Vuelta al Pais Vasco squad combined efforts to deliver Michael Matthews to victory on the third stage of the Basque tour.
“We’ve never lost in Vitoria,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens, who makes the Basque region of Spain his home. “This stage is a big one for our team. The fact is that the guys can handle the pressure. It’s not always easy to win when you’re the clear favourite, but the boys did it. They assumed responsibility from start to finish.”
“Everyone did their part today,” confirmed Matthews. “The team rode on the front, stayed around me all day and Simon Gerrans' did a perfect lead-out. It was a huge team effort. Everyone committed to one goal and one plan. All I needed to do was ride the last 200 metres. I had the easy job today.”
Inside the first ten kilometres a group of six riders slipped clear from the peloton. True to the tactical plan they had outlined, Christian Meier and Esteban Chaves quickly assumed their spot on the front of the bunch to close the gap to the leaders. Four kilometres later, the race was back together.
“We had a very clear plan,” said Stephens. “We were not to let any substantial move get away today. If the move wasn’t one that we could bring back at a moment’s notice, we either needed to be in it with Albasini or Gerrans or we needed to shut it down.”
Ruben Fernandez (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA) launched the next attack. This solo breakaway was acceptable to the Australian outfit. They allowed Fernandez to extend his advantage out to the ten minute mark before they gave chase.
“When he got out to nine minutes, that’s when we came to the front,” said Stephens. “We started chasing after that. Esteban and Christian did the early work. Later on Adam [Yates] pitched in to give Esteban a bit of a break. Those three rode fast enough to maintain the breakaway before slowing bringing it back to the bunch. It was a very controlled chase.”
At the mid-point of the race, Chaves, Meier and Yates had pegged back Fernandez to just under six minutes. Inside the final hour, the gap had fallen below a minute. Fernandez rejoined the bunch with 33 kilometres still to race.
“From there, we left the guys at the finish to do their work in the finale, which they did,” said Stephens. “They’ve done it for the last couple years now, so they knew exactly what we needed to do.”
“Viewers would have seen us on the front during the chase,” Stephens continued. “After the catch, we were less visible. The boys moved from the front to a couple rows back. If you looked closely, you would see us somewhere in the first 30 percent of the field. There was no reason we needed to be at the front until we hit the last descent, which is exactly when you saw Gerro start to move Matthews into position.”
“It was a pretty hectic final,” Matthews added. “Not many teams had a lead-out train. It was easy to have just me and Gerro in the last three kilometres. He moved me up at the perfect time and then he gave me the perfect lead-out.”
After the peloton negotiated their way around the final round-about, Gerrans hit the front with Matthews on his wheel. He did a long pull before dropping off Matthews to unleash his sprint.
“I had to trust Gerro’s positioning and timing,” said Matthews. “He’s done this finish a lot of times. He hit out around the last round-about, which came at 500 metres. He dropped me off at 180 metres, and all I had to was put out as much power as I could until I hit the finish line.”
“It was obviously always our plan to go for this stage,” Matthews added. “Having won it two times already, we committed two or three guys to ride from kilometre zero. Having the team totally back you up and fully commit like that makes my job a lot easier. It’s a relief to finish off their work.”