Michael Matthews showed his true class by winning stage 14 at the Tour de France after a series of near-misses earlier in the three-week marathon, and also giving Australian fans something to cheer – loudly and long – after Richie Porte’s disastrous exit last week.
Triumphing comfortably from Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet from Belgium, the boy they call “Bling” because of his penchant for jewellery, put himself back into contention for more silverware when the race finishes in Paris next Sunday.
Matthews, who rides for the German Sunweb team, collected the maximum 30 points per race for the second most coveted jersey, the points classification, cutting German superstar Marcel Kittel’s lead to 99, with a couple more stages to come that will suit him. He will have to do everything right from now on, but the confidence boost the win brings will be helpful.
It was probably the best performance of his impressive career, ahead of a stage win last year when he was riding for the Australian team Orica Scott. A year earlier, when the Tour had ridden into the same town, Rodez, he had crashed, breaking four ribs and losing a lot of skin. “To come back to the same finish and to win like that, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “It was the perfect day.”
He has had a frustrating Tour this time, finishing second on stage 3, thirteenth on stage 10 and fourth on stage 11, so this was one he really wanted.
Overall, the Tour has become one of the most interesting in memory, with triple champion Chris Froome regaining the leader’s yellow jersey from Italy’s Fabio Aru. There are now eight riders within two and a half minutes of the lead, and four within 29 seconds, an unprecedented situation as far as I can remember.
It was Aru’s turn to look vulnerable as Froome timed his run to the line perfectly, finishing seventh, turning a six second deficit into an 18 second buffer. Aru managed no better than 30th. “It’s a nice surprise. I never thought I’d get the jersey back on a stage like today,” Froome said.
“It’s a fight for every second this year. It’s still so close between the main rivals and I expect it will be war again.”
Orica-Scott’s Simon yates finished strongly in 13th place, losing four seconds to Froome and others in the general classification, but gaining time on Aru and Team Emirates rider Louis Meintjes, who is one of his main rivals for the white jersey for best young rider. Yates is seventh on GC, just over two minutes adrift.
It was a big day, too, for yours truly. Tour management makes a presentation of a memento to any media person who racks up 20 working visits to the great race and it finally became my turn. It was great to have some good friends there to celebrate with, including Orica-Scott owner Gerry Ryan and his wife Val, former champion rider Stuart O’Grady and my photographer mate Vaz Juchima.