Michael Matthews successfully defended the yellow jersey again today in Paris-Nice taking third on a hilly stage five. Matthews gained a four second bonus by finishing in third place and retains his lead going into the penultimate stage of the WorldTour race.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team) took a solo victory in Salon-de-Provence, moving him up to second place in the general classification, six seconds behind Matthews.
“It was a hard day for everybody but I feel good,” Matthews explained after the stage. “Not super but good. I don’t think anybody feels super after the first three days we had. I had noted this stage down as I was hoping we could get rid of the sprinters along the way but as we didn’t, we sat back and let the other teams do the work. The priority was then the yellow jersey more than the stage win.
“I’m not going to say I can win Paris-Nice but I’m going to give it everything I have. It’s already over for the green jersey, I won it, so now it’s all for the yellow.
“I didn’t suffer too much today, I think everybody was more or less in the same state. We know that it will all be decided in the last two stages and I expecting some fireworks. But I’ll still the leader and I confirmed today that it’s possible to stay that way to the end.
“I have even more confidence. I am well but I also know that the road is long with two very difficult stages left. I’m not surprised not to see my rivals move. Today it was not a stage to go for the general classification. It was especially about conserving energy. I had a great team around me and had it been necessary, they would have done the job to protect my yellow jersey.
“I’m glad I got through this difficult stage without difficulty. I had made this stage a target because I was hoping we could get rid of more sprinters, but in the end it turned out not to be the case and therefore we mainly let the other teams do the work in pursuit of Lutsenko. More than a third place in the sprint was not possible.
“My confidence has grown today. It was a difficult stage, but I was not à bloc and was comfortable throughout the day. There was a few attacks from my opponents, but I did not expect anything else. They know I’m still fresh and have a strong team around me. Even though I had to let them go on those climbs, I was able to come back later and they wasted energy needlessly. Everyone knows that Saturday and Sunday are the key stages. They determine the winner which will give aspectacle.
“It’s a bonus to have Simon Yates well placed overall. He’s a great climber and he has lost no time since the start of the race. With him, we are in an interesting situation and if I can’t keep the yellow jersey, he may be able to conquer it but for now I am in yellow.
“That is definitely an advantage. He has come through the past few days well and is a good climber. If I cannot win it, then I hope he can take over from me, but as long as I do not crac in the mountains, I’m the leader.”
Sport director Laurenzo Lapage was happy with the race so far for the team and the condition of the riders heading into the tough final two stages.
“It’s another day now we are in the lead and today the team was really great again,” Lapage said. “Matthews got over the climbs today in good position so it shows the form he has. The next two stages are really the hardest ones. Today we also had Simon Yates who was in really great condition, so I think for the next two stages we have a strong situation with Michael in the lead and Simon ready for the action.”
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