Michael Matthews hit the trifecta in Stage Two of the Tour of Utah: he won the stage, which was his first stage win for Orica-GreenEdge, and he took over the race leader’s yellow jersey as well.
It wasn’t an easy win for Matthews. BMC’s Greg Avermaet, wearing the yellow jersey, stayed on Matthews’ wheel in the final few hundred meters, and came within a bike length of winning the stage. Matthews finished dead even on time, and took the yellow jersey by virtue of winning a single point in the day’s intermediate sprint.
“I’ve had a few opportunities this year that I haven’t quite pulled off the way I would have wanted,” said Matthews on the team website. “It seemed like I was 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.”
No one imagined, seeing the route, that Stage Two of the Tour of Utah would end in a bunch sprint. With three categorized climbs, the last one a Cat One ascent topping out at 9600 feet 13.5 miles from the finish, the stage looked like a stage for climbers, perhaps the first chance for the General Classification contenders to battle.
Instead, the peloton took it easy, stayed together through the whole 131-mile stage, and came to the finish line en masse, giving Orica-GreenEdge sprinter Michael Matthews and chance to seize the stage win and the race lead.
“The profile looked a bit harder than it actually was,” Matthews explained. “I think everyone went into the day a little scared from the categorized 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.”
If the day had gone to the breakaway instead of the sprinters, Orica had that covered as well: Michael Hepburn along with MTN-Qhubeka’s Martin Wesemann, were the riders who finally shook off the peloton, after 30 miles of non-stop attacks and chases.
This pair got a gap of 8:40 at one point, but by the time they started the final climb, the peloton was only half a minute back.
Hepburn ran out of gas early on the 14.5-mile climb; Wesemann pressed on but got caught 28 miles from the finish.
Just before the peak, 22-year-old Bontrager rider Andzs Flaksis broke free, took the King of the Mountain points and pushed on down the descent. Flaksis, the Latvian time-trial champion, rode heroically, but he couldn’t hold off the peloton, which caught three miles from the finish.
The irrepressible Jens Voigt tried an attack—surprise!—2.7 miles out, with Optum’s Marsh Cooper helping, but this lasted less than half a mile. Garmin’s Dave Zabriskie leapt out just inside the two mile mark; the five-time U.S. time trial champ lasted until just under the one-kilometer banner.
Only Bontrager had anything like organization coming into the closing quarter-mile, with Jasper Stuyven having one rider to lead him out. Matthews stayed tucked in behind, and held off on his sprint until the final hundred yards before ducking to the left and launching towards the line.
Stage Three, 119 miles from Ritchfield to Payson, finishes with a climb up Mount Nebo at 9345 feet. The climb averages only 5.7 percent, but the first six miles averages ten percent, with some ramps up to twelve. The second half of the hill is a series of false flats and small humps, just enough to keep the riders from resting.
The final 25 miles are downhill, so it could possibly end in another sprint. After what happened in Stage Two, who knows?