Related Story: Sagan sprints to victory and a stint in the yellow jersey Related Story: Tour de France 2018: A strong Australian influence

Australia has had one stage winner in recent editions of the Tour de France: Michael Matthews — first in Revel in 2016; first again in Rodez and Romans-sur-Isère last year.

He's a sprinter with star qualities, a rider capable of beating the likes of triple world champion Peter Sagan and reigning Olympic gold medallist Greg Van Avermaet in tough uphill sprints like the one which concluded the fifth stage of this year's Tour.

Instead of chasing the win in Quimper, however, Matthews abandoned the Tour before stage five began.

"It's a real shame," Matthews said. "Today and tomorrow were stages that I've been targeting since the route for the Tour was announced."

He can earn points for the green jersey in flat sprints but he excels on the hills of the first week — not in the mountains of the second and third week. Things were going well until the morning of the first Wednesday when illness struck and knocked him out of the race.

In the opening stanza of the 2018 Tour there were several stages that suited the strengths of the 27-year-old perfectly, but before he really got started his race is over because of a fever.

"I've been really ill this morning and tried all I could to make it to the start line," he said, "but, feeling like this, it's simply not possible."

His coach, Brian Stephens, explained that, according to the data collected in the lead-up to the 2018 Tour, Matthews was in the best shape of his life.

"The numbers tell us that he was even better than last year," Stephens said, "but they mean nothing if you're sick and can't continue."

Matthews woke early on Wednesday morning and started vomiting. He called his wife and told her that he'd try to start the stage.

"He was still optimistic," Katarina Matthews said, "and he was telling me, 'I'll go to the start and see how I go. I'll just try and survive the stage and see if I come good.'"

External Link: Le Tour de France tweet: Relive this last kilometre who saw the 2nd stage win of @petosagan on this Le Tour! #TDF2018

The team's management agreed and allowed him to get as much rest as possible before he set off for the start in Lorient on the southern coastline of Brittany, not in the team bus as per usual, but in one of the team cars.

It was a slow trip. The illness didn't abate and there were stops along the way because Matthews had to throw up.

"The team ate together last night," Luke Roberts, one of the team's management, said.

"We're not sure if it was food poisoning or what it was, but no one else in the team is ill, which is good news," he said.

"It would obviously be nicer to keep him here," Roberts, who was a key figure in working out the winning strategy for the points classification in last year's Tour, said. "But it is not an option. Our team doctor spent all morning with him but said it would not be wise for Michael to continue racing."

External Link: Le Tour de France tweet: Classifications after stage 5 Yellow: @GregVanAvermaet Green: @petosagan King of Mountains: @Tomashuuns Young rider: @kraghsoren #TDF2018

In 2018, Team Sunweb began the Tour with a two-pronged attack: to chase stage wins and the green jersey with Matthews; and try to win the yellow jersey with the 2017 Giro d'Italia champion, Tom Dumoulin.

With Matthews out of the picture, the focus is now entirely on Dumoulin's quest to become the first Dutchman since 1980 to win the title. After five stages, he's ranked seventh, just 13 seconds behind Greg Van Avermaet who took the lead of the race after his BMC Racing team won the team time trial on day three.

"It would have been a really good finish for Michael today," Roberts said about the undulating terrain in Brittany.

"All things going well he'd have been up there challenging for the victory in Quimper, instead he's in his hotel room."

Tomorrow he'll fly to Nice and watch the rest of the Tour on TV from his home in Monaco.

The consolation is that he gets to spend time with his six-month-old daughter, Kaia.

Matthews was ranked ninth in the overall rankings after four stages, just 11 seconds shy of the yellow jersey, but he's the fourth rider to quit the Tour this year. It's not possible to race when the tank is empty and fever has struck.

Sagan firming for green jersey after stage win

Peter Sagan, wearing the green jersey, celebrates his victory on stage five of the Tour de France.

It was already going to be a tough ask to win a second successive green jersey because one of Matthews' main rivals, Peter Sagan — already a five-time winner of the green jersey, claiming it each time he's finished the Tour — is in dominant form early in this year's Tour.

External Link: Le Tour de France tweet: Watch the best landscapes of this stage 5 of @LeTour! #TDF2018

Sagan won stage two, took the yellow jersey for a day and has twice finished second — in stages one and four — both times behind Colombian sprint sensation and Tour debutant, Fernando Gaviria.

Atop the hill at the finish of stage five in Quimper, Sagan won again and increased his advantage over Gaviria in the points classification; after five stages they have 180pts to 147, respectively.

With Matthews now out of the race, it's shaping up to be a two-way battle for the green jersey in 2018. There are a host of other sprint specialists but they are well behind in their acquisition of points and there's little sign of Sagan slowing down.

The world champion from Slovakia believes he can get even better as the race goes on.

"I hope that I can still improve," Sagan said after his second stage win this year, his 10th since his Tour debut in 2012. "Otherwise, I don't know, I might struggle on the climbs. The Tour is very long and it is still only five stages old. Two days ago I had a bad day during the team time trial and I hope not to have another day like that."

The Australian influence on the Tour has suffered a blow; there are now 10 Aussies left in the race and although Richie Porte is well poised for a strong showing in the battle for the yellow jersey the quest for another green jersey has come to an end before it really began.

Original Article


ABC .net


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