Matthews sprints to victory in stage 2 of Tour of Utah
Bonus seconds at the finish would have had Matthews tied on time with overnight race leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) were it not for a single second he snagged at the second intermediate sprint. The second proved the tie-breaker and put Matthews in the yellow jersey.
“I’ve had a few opportunities this year that I haven’t quite pulled off the way I would have wanted,” said Matthews. “It seemed like I always getting second. It’s really nice to get my first win for the team, especially when everyone worked so hard for me all day. To take the yellow jersey and the sprint jersey at the same time as my first win this year is really special.”
The paper profile suggested that a select group of overall contenders would battle for the stage win. The race traveled through Bryce Canyon National Park and along the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, covering four categorised climbs in the process.
“The profile looked a bit harder than it actually was,” explained Matthews. “I think everyone went into the day a little scared from the categorised climbs, but the climbs weren’t that difficult in the end. We went into the stage with an open mind without putting any pressure on anyone.”
“We expected today to go one of three ways,” added Sport Director Matt Wilson. “A breakaway could go and the peloton would let them stay away, the guys racing the general classification could try to damage on the last climb or, if BMC wanted to keep the jersey, they would ride the front and keep the race together for a sprint.”
Michael Hepburn accidentally found himself up the road late in the first hour of racing. Having pushed the pace on the descent off the first KOM, Hepburn opened up a gap with Martin Wesemann (MTN-Qhubeka) shortly ahead of the 40km mark.
“It was not our job to take any responsibility for the day,” said Wilson. “As it was, we got Hepburn in a little break. It wasn’t a break we wanted, but he ended up out there anyway with one other rider. It ultimately worked out for us because we definitely didn’t have any responsibility with a rider up the road.”
Hepburn and Wesemann stretched their lead out to 8’40 before the BMC-led peloton began to chase in earnest. The duo’s lead tumbled over the Hogsback. They had 1’40 in hand as they reached the category one Boulder Mountain. Hepburn sat up while Wesemann evaded catch until mid-way up the final climb.
Andzs Flaksis (Bontrager) jumped away from the field before the summit of Boulder Mountain and maintained a slight advantage at the final KOM line. The peloton split in his wake with a front group of around ten riders attempting to bridge across. The race came back together on the approach to Torrey, and Flaksis’ advantage fell to 10” with 10km left to race. Five kilometres from the finish, Flaksis was back in the bunch.
“It was really difficult run in,” said Wilson. “There weren’t a lot of other sprint trains to take control, so it was pretty much all on us at that point. BMC was spent from chasing all day.”
“Everyone was attacking,” Wilson continued. “One of our guys would go to the front and take a massive pull to bring the race back together, and then another guy would attack hard, and we’d have to do it all over again. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) made the last significant move. Sam Bewley did a big turn to bring Zabriskie back inside the last kilometre.”
With his teammates covering late race attacks, Matthew was left to find his own way to the line in the last half-kilometre. He was the first to open the sprint, and no one proved capable of challenging his lunge for the line.
“The team did a perfect job to set me up,” said Matthews. “I didn’t have to touch the wind or many any more effort than absolutely necessary until it was time to sprint. I wouldn’t have won the stage without all their work.”
“I felt a lot better today than yesterday,” Matthews added. “I stayed at Brian Head for two weeks before the race started, so I adjusted to the time change and altitude before the race started. The team had a lot of confidence in me going into this tour, and they played all their cards for me again.”
After having fully committed to the win yesterday and coming off with second, Wilson was particularly pleased to direct the team to victory today.
“It was an exact repeat of what happened yesterday – but in reverse,” said Wilson. “Yesterday, we did all the work and BMC capitalized off it. Today, BMC did all the work, and we capitalized on it. It’s a just reward for the way we’ve ridden these last two days.”
Although thrilled to pull on the yellow jersey today, Matthews does not expect to keep it. Mount Nebo, the major obstacle on stage three, is expected to prove far more decisive than Boulder Mountain and should force the overall contenders to begin to play their cards.
“I think tomorrow will be a ‘rest day’ for us,” said Matthews, with a smile. “We’ll probably back it off on stage three and then ramp things up again for the crit in Salt Lake City on Friday.”