If there was a question as to Michael Matthews’ continued drive, the tears in Melfi certainly answer it.
Matthews kicked harder than the rest on a 5% drag to the finish line, popping off of a slightly early Trek-Segafredo leadout train to come around the day’s other key protagonist, Mads Pedersen, and take his first victory since last year’s Tour de France.
These finishes are made for Matthews, who freely admits he can’t stick with the fastest in a big bunch gallop anymore. But though he rode the last two kilometers without a teammate in sight, those same teammates can be proud of their efforts on his behalf.
A nasty climb met the peloton with just over 30 kilometers remaining. A Category 3 with a Category 4 layered on top, icing on the cake. Trek used Amanuel Ghebreigzabier early and put their own man in trouble, as Pedersen was seen dangling at the back.
Word came through that Pedersen was in trouble and Jayco-AlUla hit closer to the top, using up their Italian national champion Filippo Zana and Matthews’ fellow Aussie Callum Scotson and sending other key threats like EF’s Magnus Cort off the back.
“We really came in with a plan,” Scotson said afterward. “We pushed on the climb, from there everyone was committed and it was up to Michael at the finish.”
Pedersen came back and then started the second climb at the front before slowly drifting back, just about hanging on as the peloton crested the summit, his grimace showing just how deep he’d dipped into the red.
It was a calculated risk on Jayco-AlUla’s part. The team effort meant that Matthews was without teammates with 2 km to go, forcing him to surf the wheels of the team that played it differently, Trek. Pedersen had three teammates, including Bauke Mollema and Toms Skujinš ready to pull uphill leadout duty. Matthews was alertly stuck right on Pedersen’s wheel.
Ghebreigzabhier put in one last pull until about one km to go, leaving it to Mollema, who ripped through a series of corners and held on as long as he could before handing it off to Skujinš, who took over at 500 m. The Latvian pulled through a sweeping right, accelerated, and Pedersen stayed on his wheel for a split second too long.
Matthews attacked up the right, came over the top with a kilometer per hour or two to spare, and Pedersen, despite slowly closing, could never quite get back on terms.
“We rode all day today, and they were fully committed to me for the stage,” Matthews said. “I don’t have words for the moment. It’s been such a rollercoaster this year, and now already on Stage 3 with a stage win, it’s more than I could ever dream of.
“I heard that Pedersen was dropped on the climb, so I was hoping he would be a little bit pinned for the sprint, and I just knew I needed to go a bit early and get the jump on them. Yeah, it worked out.”
Timing, team use, and the power to finish it off. Matthews’ wins don’t come as frequently as they did a few years ago, but the quality of the ones he does get is exceptionally high. Score one for Matthews in one of the Giro’s consistently good battles, that between the sprinters who can climb.