Michael Matthews: “If it hadn’t been for Bouhanni, I would have won easily”
Yellow jersey wearer Michael Matthews has taken another victory today at Paris-Nice in a stage two sprint that saw commissaires intervene on line honours.
Matthews was awarded the win in a tight finish that saw Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis Solutions Credits) relegated for interfering with the 25-year-old’s sprint during the finish into Commentry.
“He (Bouhanni) changed his line a little bit in the sprint,” explained Matthews, who was promoted from second to first place. “When you’ve opened up your sprint after a hard stage like that it’s hard to sprint in a straight line.
“I think I probably would have come past him in the sprint, but it’s racing. It’s unfortunate it needs to be like that but it is what it is. As you could see I had a lot of speed when I was coming past, so it would have been a win either way.
“It’s definitely amazing to get another stage win – that’s two out of three now. It was an uphill sprint so it suited me a lot better than yesterday.
“I made my sprint on the left, Nacer was in the middle. He changed his line, too, and pushed me against the fence.
“I make no mistake, Nacer did. I sprinted to the left, Bouhanni came from the middle all the way to my side and almost pushed me into the barrier. It was dangerous. Luckily I stayed upright.
“Without it I would have won. I came out of Nacer’s wheel and I was at full speed fifteen meters from the line. Without that move, I would probably have won quite easily.
“I think Bouhanni changed his line. I nearly crashed. It’s always difficult to sprint at the end of such a long stage. It’s unfortunate but either way I would have won because I was coming around him and I would have won if we hadn’t touched. Two out of three, it’s exceptional.
“After the 2 seconds taken yesterday, those 10 seconds can really help me keep the yellow jersey tomorrow at Mont Brouilly and maube to the end of Paris-Nice. Those 12 seconds are very important!
“Mont Brouilly is a 3.5 km ascent at an average of 7%. I think I can hold on. It will depend on the speed but I will give my maximum. I have very good legs and I do not think a guy can get a big advantage. I’ll try to handle it and save energy for the future.
“Of course tomorrow will be hard for everyone. We climbed Mont Brouilly in Paris-Nice two years ago but we finished at the bottom, not the top. It will definitely be interesting to see what I can do and how the other teams will react. I don’t want to say anything at this point, I first want to go back to the hotel and celebrate with my team-mates. But I definitely hope to be able to keep the yellow jersey tomorrow.
“I have very good legs on the climbs and I surprised everyone by winning the prologue. To win a sprint is a very good sign for Milan – San Remo. I am in the form of my life.
“I am 14 seconds ahead of Dumoulin. That’s important. The GC remains an ambition. It is difficult, but I’m going to give everything and I hope to wear the jersey tomorrow again. It has been a few difficult days in Paris-Nice: the cold, the stage yesterday and today, at no time flat actually. It still hurts in the legs and costs energy. It was not easy to sprint today. I’m glad I succeeded.
“There is no doubt that the TV doesn’t show it but they are very hard days. It reguired a lot of effort, a lot of energy. Today, it was cold, there were false-flats, uphill, downhill. The roads were rarely flat. The circuit was more difficult too. It was complicated for typical sprinters. And it was added to yesterday … “
“I am always very confident before Milan-Sanremo. Last year I finished third but I had the legs to win. I thought about this sprint all year. In general, I learned a lot last year, in this classic and others. I am in great shape and I will approach this race with the necessary experience. I know I’m going to be at 110% but with my two stage wins in Paris-Nice, I’m very confident.”
After a close finish the commissaries took the decision to place Bouhanni down from first to third place, consequently giving Matthews the victory and ten bonus seconds, which now increases his lead in the general classification by 14seconds.
Sport director Laurenzo Lapage was again thrilled with the team’s efforts today and expressed how taking the victory and retaining the lead in the race was an added bonus.
“We saw again a great team and everyone did their job,” Lapage said. “Winning the stage was good, we didn’t know with all the sprinters here on a stage like this, but that shows again Matthews’ condition against the other WorldTour riders.”
Tomorrow the riders face another tough 168km stage with five category three climbs and a steep climb to the finish line.
“We will keep the same race plan as we had at the start coming into this tour,” continued Lapage. “That’s with Matthews going for the stage wins and possibly overall and Simon Yates for the overall.
“Of course with Michael now in the yellow jersey we have to work hard in tomorrow’s stage and also with the last hard climb up to the finish.”