Island tour

Matthews wins Tour stage 14, Pogacar can’t let Vinegaard down

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Stage winner Michael Matthews of Australia breaks away during the 192.5 kilometer (119.6 mile) fourteenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race starting in Saint-Etienne and finishing in Mende, France, on Saturday July 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

PA

Michael Matthews took the solo victory in the 14th stage of the Tour de France on Saturday when defending champion Tadej Pogacar tried unsuccessfully to make up time on leader Jonas Vingaard.

Matthews’ fourth stage victory came five years after the Australian last tasted victory in France.

The specialist in the one-day classic was part of a group of 23 riders who came out of the peloton after a frenetic start to the stage punctuated by a flurry of attacks in hilly terrain from Saint-Etienne to Mende.

After spending the day leading the race, Matthews looked set to crack when he was caught by Italian Alberto Bettiol on the final climb, but his courage helped him stay in contention and launch a counter-attack which bore fruit.

“Matthews put on a show. He has days like that where he is very strong,” said French rider Thibaut Pinot, who completed the stage podium behind Matthews and Bettiol. “He really amazes me. Doing the sprints he does and climbing the way he does, in his field he is the best.”

With its constant ups and downs, the stage profile through the Massif Central was ideal for a breakaway. Unsurprisingly, many riders without personal ambition in the general classification were on the attack from the start to tear the peloton apart.

More surprisingly, defending champion Pogacar was also on the move as he tried to upset his rivals just 10 kilometers from the 193 kilometer course, forcing Vingaard to react and press on.

The unorthodox strategy took its toll on the peloton as Primoz Roglic, a key Vingaard lieutenant in the Jumbo-Visma team, struggled at the back.

Belgian all-rounder Wout Van Aert, who also rides for Jumbo-Visma, worked hard to get his leader through the chaos and things finally calmed down after a spectacular and brutal hour of racing as the group of main contenders slowed down the pace to let the breakaway form.

“I sped up a bit, played a game a bit, but they have too strong a squad,” Pogacar said.

Matthews of Team BikeExchange-Jayco launched a solo effort about 50 kilometers from the finish and whittled the lead group down to just four men.

He was joined at the front by Bettiol in the Côte de la Croix Neuve, a short but strenuous three-kilometre climb with a gradient of more than 10% followed by a short descent through the airfield to the line of arrival.

Matthews fought to stay in Bettiol’s wheel, then countered his rival near the top of the climb and never looked back.

The truce in the group of main contenders lasted until the Côte de la Croix Neuve when Pogacar attacked again. Vingagaard was unimpressed and followed comfortably, with the pair crossing the line 12 minutes and 34 seconds behind.

“I tried,” Pogacar said. “The legs are there. . . I will keep trying.”

Overall, Vingaard is ahead of Pogacar, still two minutes, 22 seconds. Geraint Thomas, who was dropped by the pair on the final climb, was third, 2:43 off the pace.

Ahead of Monday’s rest day and a final week marked by crossing the Pyrenees and an individual time trial before the race reaches Paris in eight days, Sunday’s stage from Rodez to Carcassonne should favor the sprinters .

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