Australian rider Michael Matthews won the third stage of the Vuelta a Espana and took the overall lead as he sped ahead of Irishman Dan Martin and Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez in a sprint finish on Monday.
The 23-year-old Orica-GreenEDGE rider, who won two stages in the Vuelta last year, crossed the line in 5 hours, 12 minutes and 14 seconds to take the 197.8km stage from Cadiz to Arcos de la Frontera in Spain.
The 10 bonus seconds on offer to winners of a stage allowed Matthews to move ahead of race favorite Colombian Nairo Quintana of Team Movistar into the overall lead by four seconds.
“I can’t ask any more of the team. The victory depended on them because they gave everything for it,” Matthews said. “I didn’t think I could do it, but the team gave 100 percent for me.”
Matthews was forced to pull out of this year’s Tour de France due to a hand injury suffered in training just a week before it got underway.
He said that wearing the leader’s red jersey was a huge bonus given that he had not planned on riding in Spain at all this year “because I wasn’t in form, but sometimes when you work hard you can get back to your best level and if you believe in yourself you come back even stronger. To wear the red jersey is a dream come true. I adore the Tour of Spain [Vuelta].”
Overnight leader Alejandro Valverde of Movistar came home seven seconds down on the stage leaders to slip to third place overall.
However, two-time winner Alberto Contador and Chris Froome showed no ill effects on their return from the injuries that forced them to retire from the Tour de France as they finished among the leading pack to remain in contention.
Saxo-Tinkoff’s Spanish rider Contador trails Quintana by 19 seconds, with Team Sky’s Froome a further eight seconds back.
On the first stage of the race involving any serious climbing, an early breakaway group consisting of Swiss duo Danilo Wyss and Jonathan Fumeaux, Spain’s Lluis Mas Bonet, Jerome Cousin of France and South African Jacques van Rensburg built up an early eight-minute lead.
That was whittled down to five minutes before the first of four category-three climbs and despite Bonet’s attempt to breakaway on his own, he was swallowed up by the peloton with just less than 30km to go.
There was then a scare for Froome as two Movistar riders, Jonathan Castroviejo and Adriano Malori, crashed centimeters away from last year’s Tour champion, but thankfully both avoided a collision with any other riders and were fine to complete the stage after a brief delay.
After the peloton briefly bunched together, there were a number of attacks on the slight climb to the line and Garmin-Sharp’s Martin looked like he would reel Matthews in, but left himself too much to do as the Australian added to his two stage wins in last year’s Vuelta.
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