Michael Matthews was relegated to lead-out rider on stage 11 of the Tour de France as his Sunweb team opted to back Dutchman Cees Bol.
The flat and fast finish in Toulouse prompted the German outfit to back Bol over Tour stage winner Matthews, after the Australian suffered repeat disappointments in the opening week.
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Matthews, a former winner of three Tour de France stages and the green jersey, said Sunweb bosses announced on Tuesday’s rest day (July 16) that Bol would be the chosen sprinter on stage 11.
Dutchman Bol, 23, is riding his first Grand Tour and doesn’t have the palmarès of his Australian team-mate, but was given a chance as Matthews has struggled to fight for victory.
Speaking after the stage, Matthews said: “It was the team’s idea. on the rest day they came up with the idea and it makes sense
“We thought with a short hectic stage maybe it was good to give me a day off and give Cees a chance. He’s a big guy for a stage like this and it was a faster sprinter’s sort of stage so we decided to give him the opportunity. He’s given me a lot of help in my lead outs this Tour de France so far so I wanted to return the favour.”
The tactic didn’t pay off – after Matthews dropped Bol off with a kilometre left to race, Bol only managed eighth place, two spots ahead of pure climber Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic).
Matthews also opted not to fight for points at the intermediate sprint on the stage, as he pulls out of the battle for the green jersey to target stage victories from a breakaway.
Thanks to his consistent top-five finishes at the Tour de France 2019, Matthews was second to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the points classification at the start of the day, making him a marked man if he would attempt to break free from the peloton to chase a stage.
The 28-year-old added: “I’m too close in the green jersey points for Sagan to let me go in the breakaway, so in the end we have to either keep fighting for the green and give away stage wins, or go for stage wins and give away the green jersey. It’s a decision we had to make.”
Matthews has consistently found himself well-placed in bunch finishes this Tour, but has only one podium finish after he won the bunch sprint to take second behind Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) on stage three.
He puts his struggles in the sprints down to his training, which he says had been tailored to a domestique role to support Tom Dumoulin’s general classification hopes. Dumoulin was forced to skip the Tour due to a persisting knee injury, and Matthews found himself the team’s best hope at a stage victory despite his lack of sprint training.
On whether his temporary demotion to lead-out ride would affect his morale, Matthews said: “I’ll come back more motivated, I think. I showed the team I’m willing to help them on a stage that suits them better than it suits me. That’s what brings a good team spirit up – one of the leaders dropping back and saying ‘okay we’ll ride for you today, you’ve done some really good work for me.’