On today’s tough opening stage of Itzulia Basque Country, Michael Matthews fought hard against the climbers to hold his position on a series of tough climbs but eventually lost contact on the final climb.
With five categorised climbs on the agenda for the opening stage of the six day race, it was never going to be an easy task, but with Michael still building form and having shown promisingly at Milano-Sanremo, both himself and the team were up for the task.
An early break of four riders went up the road early on but were never allowed much of an advantage, gaining less than two minutes at best. They were joined by two others during the stage, but with a fast chasing bunch behind with many GC favourites keen to test their legs, the break’s day was up before the final climb.
A fast lead out set the remaining peloton of around 40-50 riders raced into the final climb of 2.4km at 9% average gradient, with Michael well positioned near the front. As the pace lifted and the attacks came, he held firm for a while but eventually succumbed to the pace. Two riders attacked over the top and held off the chasing front group to fight out the stage honours.
Team Sunweb coach Aike Visbeek said after the finish: “We were focused on Michael today for the stage result. In the end the stage was really hard, we knew the final climb would be hard but we wanted to give it a go as we see this race as good preparation for the Ardennes. I saw good teamwork – the guys were focused on Michael all day. It was a good final, a hard one but I’m satisfied with the work from today.
Michael said: “I’m physically not yet in top shape but I made the best of it and was well protected by my team. I still have work to do but we take it day by day and we’ll see what we can do as there are more chances for me this week.”