Michael Matthews edges closer to the green jersey
With Marcel Kittel not feeling 100 per cent and his Quick-Step team losing Philippe Gilbert ahead of the stage, Michael Matthews capitalised on a recent resurgence with another stage victory to go with his win on stage 14.
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The Australian has shown his intent to fight to the very end for the green jersey by challenging for every intermediate point available and with Kittel dropping back today, Matthews took full advantage.
Reducing the points competition to just 29 points, Matthews is perfectly primed to take the two intermediate sprints over the next two Alpine stages, shaking up the green jersey standings and potentially bringing the fight for that jersey right down to the finish line in Paris.
Wind plays its part as Dan Martin misses the gap
With so much promise of echelons forming today it almost felt like the commentators curse was put down after nearly 140km with no echelons.
However, with 15km to go, Team Sky ramped up the race forming their own group, forcing the peloton into a panic. Fabio Aru was first to feel the pinch as he was forced to fight the initial gap.
Dan Martin was the biggest scalp of the day though, as his positioning found himself further back and beyond the gap, eventually finishing 51 seconds back and later admitting that his GC chances were probably over.
The Irishman has been pushing on relentlessly in the mountains since his crash on stage nine to try an regain time, but he missed out in an environment where his Quick-Step team are usually so strong.
Martin was alongside Louis Meintjes, André Greipel and Alexander Kristoff, a group of riders have been dogged by bad luck, bad weather and better competitors in this Tour de France.
Michael Matthews was rubbing his hands with glee as the day’s stage reduced the sprinting bunch to a handful of fellow rivals with Greg Van Avermaet being his number one. However, it was Edvald Boasson Hagen who pushed the Aussie the closest but failed to overcome in the final sprint to the line.
Team Sunweb apply the hurt
Focused on making Kittel’s life as hard as possible in the fight for the green jersey, Team Sunweb upped the ante by driving the peloton on a windy stage.
With Matthews winning the stage as the day’s main goal Team Sunweb found themselves controlling proceedings and as news travelled that Kittel was hurting, they pushed on.
The move was rewarded with maximum points for Sunweb as they cut Kittel’s lead in the points competition down from 79 to 29.
After a bumper year that includes a Giro d’Italia victory, Sunweb will be confident that they can get their man in green come July 23.
Degenkolb not happy with Matthews’ sprint
Still finding his form after his horror crash last year, John Degenkolb recorded his first podium finish today on stage 16 but he wasn’t too happy.
The German sprinter for Trek-Segafredo was visibly infuriated as he crossed the line after thinking that the day’s stage winner Matthews meandered from his line in the closing metres.
So much so, Matthews alleged Degenkolb grabbed him by the neck to confront him.
However, video replays seem to show Matthews did nothing wrong in the final push for the line.
Will Degenkolb face any retribution from a race jury that has been a bit inconsistent this Tour? The altercation didn’t happen while racing so it’s hard to say but Degenkolb may want to apologise, quickly.
Fabio Aru’s learns from his positioning mistakes
After failing to position well on stage 14 Fabio Aru seemingly learned from his mistake when Team Sky formed the race’s first echelon.
An initial scare saw him left behind but the Italian must have had flashbacks to all those seconds Chris Froome gained on him and he worked hard to bridge the gap.
It paid off as he held his own as everyone battled the crosswinds. That image was contrasted by fellow GC hopeful Dan Martin who struggled in vain as he couldn’t copy Aru’s move.
In the last week of racing Aru will be pleased that he is getting to grips with the demands that being a GC contender ask, particularly with his positioning.