Matthews clinches second Tour de France stage win
CYCLING: Michael Matthews is riding the biggest wave of his career after a second Tour de France win in three days put him within striking distance of the green jersey.
The Australian again stalked Greg Van Avermaet in the last 300m of a technical Stage 16 finale, before breaking clear to pip Edvald Boasson-Hagen in a photo finish.
Matthews, who also took the intermediate sprint, hauled in another 50 sprint points to be only 29 points behind classification leader Marcel Kittel.
"It was all in slow motion for me, really,” Matthews said.
"The team did such a great job to put me in the right spot at the right time to launch my sprint.
"To get my second win in three days, I don't really know. I think it won't really sink in until tomorrow.”
With the result not initially known, Matthews screamed for joy when the verdict came through. He later embraced Australian sprinting legend-turned-analyst Robbie McEwen in the commentary compound.
Kittel has proved himself the fastest man in the race, but the big German was again put into difficulty on the climbs. When he was dropped on the category 3 Cote de Boussoulet only half an hour into yesterday's windy 165km stage, Matthews' Team Sunweb went for the kill.
"Once we heard Kittel was dropped on the climb we knew we had to try and take advantage of it,” Matthews said.
"With the big strong guys we have here in Team Sunweb we could use that to my advantage on the crosswind sections.”
In a supreme display of teamwork and sacrifice, Sunweb buried Kittel on the climb and then set about controlling the race and protecting Matthews as strong crosswinds pelted the peloton.
When Chris Froome's Team Sky put the hammer down with 15km in a show of force that split the bunch, Matthews was guided into the front group.
Kittel's teammate Dan Martin was caught out and slipped from fifth to seventh overall, completing a horror day for Quick-Step Floors who lost Philippe Gilbert to sickness and then prioritised Kittel over Martin to their detriment.
Fellow title contenders Fabio Aru (second overall) and Romain Bardet (third) only just hung on.
But Sunweb have now won three of the last four stages, have Frenchman Warren Barguil in the climbers' polka dot jersey and are now dreaming of taking green in Paris.
"It's awesome. We took them by the balls today,” Matthews' teammate Laurens ten Dam said.
"I got goosebumps when I heard the photo-finish went our way. It's such a nice feeling.
"We had some difficult moments ... when one day he finished outside the top 10 (13th in Stage 10), but we kept fighting and today he took a lot of points back.
"There's a possibilibity in the intermediate sprints tomorrow and also in Saturday's time trial as well.
"The team is fighting and we're on a roll so why not?”
Dutchman Ramon Sinkeldam said: "I think we were dominating the race and nobody in the peloton tried to jump because they knew we wanted a sprint. It was the perfect day.
"We are willing to sacrifice for each other. For me personally, I like it more when my leader wins like today than when I win myself in a smaller race.”
Behind the yellow jersey, the green jersey is the most prestigious honour at the Tour de France and one that Australia has a history with.
McEwen (2002, 2004, 2006) and Baden Cooke (2003) are both on the points classification honour roll.
Froome retained the yellow jersey, but will be bracing for a onslaught from key rivals, with back-to-back days in the Alps up next.