The two sprinters are now neck and neck in the points standings with only two stages remaining to decide it
Michael Matthews (Sunweb), winner of the 16th stage of the Tour de France in Romans-sur-Isère, promises a green jersey fight all the way to Paris with current leader Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors).
Matthews won the windy stage on Tuesday and before the rest day, stage 14. He trails the green jersey leader by 29 points, 344 to Kittel’s 373.
“It’s been one guy [Peter Sagan] dominating for the last years,” Matthews said, “so to see a fight to Paris for the green jersey will be special.”
Sagan won the points competition the last five years in a row, from 2012 to 2016. The jury made the controversial move to disqualify him after a stage four incident with Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), who had to abandon with a fractured shoulder blade.
Kittel appeared to be in control with Sagan and then Arnaud Démare (FDJ) leaving the race. He won five stages and moved into a strong lead. Even after his fifth, he warned that the green jersey was not a done deal.
“Unfortunately, the Tour de France is three weeks long and not only two,” Kittel said.
“I was probably right [after my fifth win] to say it’d be settled on the Champs-Élysées.”
Two chances remain for sprint finishes, one in Marseille and one in Paris. German Kittel is the fastest sprinter of the two, but Australian Matthews the more versatile. He escaped the other day to pick up points and on stage 16, tried to do the same.
Once he realised Kittel was dropped, he ordered his Sunweb team to pull hard to possibly force him to be time cut or to at least ensure he would be without his top rival at the finish.
“When Kittel was dropped, I went to the front, the guys just smiled and were ready to work for me,” Matthews said.
“We kept up the pressure and kept pulling full, so if he’s out of the race, it’s better for me. I took the intermediate and we got the final points as well. I got 50 points today
“It was really an amazing day, we had a great plan in the bus, but this worked out 10 times better than planned.”
At one point, the data showed that Sunweb worked 61.1 per cent at the front. The next best team, Dimension Data for Edvald Boasson Hagen, worked 13.5 per cent.
Kittel can only defend his green jersey by winning and having his team make sure Matthews fails to win the intermediate sprints in the coming two mountain days.
“The climb at the start today was something that suited him better, so what can I do about it? I won’t think about the lost points now,” Kittel added.
“I can’t say I’m happy about losing all the points today, but there’s nothing to do. We also tried to keep Dan Martin in contention today [he slipped from fifth to seventh], but it wasn’t our day. We have to move on and think about out next chances.”