Giro d'Italia: Matthews gritty in pink - Aussie ace leads the way after three thrilling days
Aussie ace leads the way after three thrilling days
The Giro d'Italia wrapped up a memorable three days in Ireland yesterday, voyaging from historic Armagh to bustling Dublin where Marcel Kittel again sprinted to stage victory in a storming finale.
Driving rain and wind continued to make life difficult for the peloton and almost spelt disaster for Michael Matthews in the Pink Jersey.
He crashed late in the day but managed to finish in the top 20 and will travel onward to Italy wearing the Maglia Rosa.
It was Kittel, however, who was the star of the show as he celebrated his 26th birthday in style with an electric sprint in the final metres having looked out of contention during the winding arrival to Merrion Square.
"The road got really narrow with two kilometres to go and we knew that we had to be in front here and we were but I got sandwiched and it was a choice of letting go of Tom Veeler's wheel or probably crashing," said Kittel.
"This put me out of position slightly and a bit far back but I was never going to give up on the chance to win a stage," he added.
"When I could see the finish line after the final corner I gave it everything and it was really close but I just concentrated on the line and managed to come past everyone."
Passing Armagh's two cathedrals and famous Mall, yesterday's stage set off cautiously through the city's narrow streets before heading into the local countryside.
It didn't take long for a breakaway group to emerge, as Maarten Tjallingii again made his mark on the Irish country roads, leaving the peloton in search of more points in the King of the Mountains competition.
The apple blossom of local orchards added some natural pink shades to the colourful fanaticism of recent days, as Tjallingii and four others gained a lead of almost six minutes before the stage's two brief climbs arrived at Markethill and Few's Forest.
Tjallingii had vowed on Saturday evening to defend his blue jersey until the race arrives in Italy, and the Dutchman managed that by winning both climbs.
Orica-GreenEDGE, looking to defend Matthews' maglia rosa, hit the front of the peloton as the race reached Forkhill and headed over the border.
The gap was down to under three minutes at Castlebellingham as the peloton looked to have gained control.
But the breakaway quintet were determined to make a run for the stage victory after all their hard work, and with 80km to go they had extended the lead back to 3'38 as the peloton slowed during the feeding zone.
Strong headwinds caused problems in the main group, with one crash involving several Astana riders and veteran Italian sprinter Michele Scarponi, but the breakaway was eventually reeled in as the sprinters' teams looked to dictate proceedings.
The Cannondale squad hit the front of the peloton as it arrived in Dublin, looking to unleash Elia Viviani for the sprint, with Kittel's Giant-Shimano crew arriving on the scene with less that 3km remaining.
Cannondale looked to be in control and Kittel's red jersey was under threat, as Sky's Ben Swift led the charge with 100m to go.
But again the German showed his incredible power to pip Swift right on the line despite being poorly positioned initially.
The result reaffirmed Kittel's reputation as the leading sprinter in the world as he tightened his grip on the sprinters' jersey with a second straight stage win.
Yesterday's stage was remarkably similar to Saturday when the riders also faced rain throughout the day as they made their way from Belfast to the north coast before returning to Donegall Square via Ballycastle, Cushendall, Larne and Carrickfergus.
The conditions led to caution in the early stages from most of the pack although Belkin's Tjallingii attacked soon after the official departure at Glengormley and was joined by three companions for most of the day.
Looking to preserve their grasp on the pink jersey, held by Svein Tuft after the opening team time trial, Orica-GreenEDGE were forced to do the initial work until the sprinters' teams started to pave the way for their star men.
With fantastic support as they passed through every village and town along the route, the breakaway managed to stay in front until the last few kilometres, though Tjallingii's efforts were rewarded with the blue jersey as leader of the King of the Mountains competition.
The peloton's chase was driven by Giant-Shimano and Orica, and in the end they each got what they wanted.
The riders raced in along the Shore Road and towards the city centre as a group and German speedster Kittel blew the field away with a breath-taking finish to take the sprinters' red jersey.
Orica, meanwhile, kept a hold of the maglia rosa as Australian rider Matthews' eighth place earned him a time bonus to leap ahead of Tuft in the general classification.
The teams travelled to southern Italy last night and will enjoy a deserved rest day today after their Northern Irish adventure before the Giro resumes in Giovinazzo tomorrow morning.