Versatile sprinter Michael Matthews tucked into a sandwich at a post-race press conference as the knowledge of becoming the sixth Australian to wear the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia today sunk in.
The 23-year-old finished eighth at the end of the second stage, which German Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) easily won, to take the leader’s jersey from Orica-GreenEdge teammate Svein Tuft.
Matthews has been entrusted with and capitalised on more team leadership opportunities this season so much that Tour de France selection has been whispered by various sources here in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Wet and muddy after riding in unfavourably cold weather, the 2010 under-23 road world champion happily spoke to journalists past the finish line before riding without an escort to the podium.
“It was always a dream of mine to come to the Giro and put the pink jersey on but I never thought it was actually going to be a reality. I’m speechless,” Matthews said.
The dual Vuelta a Espana stage winner is hopeful he can now keep the maglia rosa up until the end of the first week though has thought of veteran sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, who is in a good position on the general classification thanks to Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s second place in the opening team time trial that Orica-GreenEdge won. However, the Italian didn't figure in today's bunch sprint and, with his team built around Rigoberto Uran, shouldn't be a problem.
“It depends how Petacchi sprints because he is eight seconds [adrift],” Matthews said. “If he wins a stage or gets second and I don’t run a place he could take the jersey off me the next few days. But stage five and six are my key goals for this Giro, they suit me better than a flat sprint like this so I’ll try and keep it up until then. If I can put a bit of time into the sprinters on stages five and six that would be really good.”
Matthews has talked down his chances of besting points leader Kittel, who has now won at least one stage in every Grand Tour, in the pure sprints to follow but is confident of his form on hillier days.
“I think he’s definitely the fastest guy in the bunch here. He showed today no matter if it’s warm or cold he’ll be there in the flat sprints,” Matthews said. “I think just try and be around him in the first few stages in the sprints, run second or third to him each time maybe and conserve some energy for stages five and six.”
Matthews can add the maglia rosa to an already impressive collection that includes the rainbow bands and the Vuelta’s points jersey that he celebrated a stint in on Grand Tour debut in Spain last year.
“There’s not much further we can go from here but for my first Giro d’Italia, to wear the pink jersey, it’s truly incredible,” he said.
“After I found out that I was doing the Giro the plan was to try and get the pink jersey so I had high hopes coming into it but you never really know. Things can go terribly wrong and you don’t get the jersey. Now that we really did well in the team time trial yesterday and we put a big gap over the teams behind us we should be able to keep it for maybe a week, which was the goal from the start. We’ll protect it for as long as we can.”
Matthews joins an elite group of Australians to have worn the maglia rosa including Richie Porte, Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen, Brett Lancaster and Brad McGee.
Vuelta a Espana 2013, stage five: Orica-GreenEdge's Michael Matthews takes stage win five days into Grand Tour debut
Vuelta a Espana 2013, stage six: Tony Martin steals the show with bold solo escape
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