The shortest stage of the Tour of Utah was destined to culminate with a sprint to the finish on Friday evening, and Australia’s Michael Matthews did not disappoint.
Coming down the stretch of the fifth and final lap of Stage 4’s Salt Lake City circuit, Matthews was locked into a battle with Greg Van Avermaet as they pedaled up the hill leading north on State Street and then East Capitol Street.
Van Avermaet led until just before the finish line, when Matthews came roaring from behind on Van Avermaet’s right side to take the lead, lifting his arms in triumph as he crossed the finish line.
It was the second stage win for Matthews of Orica GreenEDGE, who won Wednesday’s Stage 2 from Panguitch to Torrey. BMC Racing Team’s Van Avermaet finished second and Jasper Stuyven of Bontrager Cycling Team finished third.
“It wasn’t a typical sprint today,” Matthews said. “It was up and down all day. … I had to play my cards, I was following Greg in the sprint and then I had to see what legs I had left in the finish.”
Matthews said his team knew that Van Avermaet was the favorite for this stage and they formulated a plan to give Matthews a chance to overcome the Belgian cyclist.
“In our team meeting we spoke about what we had to do,” Matthews said. “It was to ride the front and get me onto Greg’s wheel … and just see if I could survive on his wheel. I was lucky to get over his wheel and still have a bit of energy for the sprint to the finish.”
It was the third straight runner-up stage finish for Van Avermaet after he won Stage 1 on Tuesday.
“If he’s in the wheel it’s hard to beat him,” Van Avermaet said of Matthews, who is considered a pure sprinter. “I gave everything on this climb, and I look back on top of this climb and he’s still on my wheel … I tried to do the sprint but it was not possible to beat him. I took my chance and tried to win another stage, and I’m disappointed today.”
Team Garmin-Sharp’s Lachlan Morton, riding Stage 4 in the yellow jersey as the race leader, finished 10th and extended his general classification lead by four more seconds.
Morton and his teammates rode with the peloton during the shortest stage of the Tour, content to finish at the front of the pack of riders just behind the leaders. The 21-year-old Australian was grateful for his more-accomplished teammates who raced on Friday in order to keep him in the lead.
“It was unreal. Three of those guys have been top 10 in the Tour de France, and the other guys have either been world champions or Grand Tour stage winners,” Morton said. “To have them riding for me upfront is like a dream, you know? And they’re so experienced at doing it, it makes what should be a stressful job really easy.”
Morton made up four seconds in the overall standings because of a 10-second penalty assessed to Van Avermaet for pushing off against a vehicle during the first lap. The infraction caused Van Avermaet to fall four more seconds behind Morton for the overall lead despite the six bonus seconds he received for finishing second.
American Craig Lewis of Champion System Pro Racing won the gray jersey as the most aggressive rider during Stage 4, leading a break in the final lap to jump out to a big lead before falling back to finish with the peloton.
O Stage 4 • SLC circuit, 34 miles
Yellow jersey (overall leader) • Lachlan Morton, Team Garmin-Sharp
Purple jersey (sprinter’s classification) • Greg Van Avermaet, BMC Racing Team
Blue jersey (king of the mountain) • Michael Torckler, Bissell Pro Racing
Light blue jersey (best young rider) • Lachlan Morton, Team Garmin-Sharp
Gray jersey (most aggressive rider) • Craig Lewis, Champion System Pro Cycling
Top 10 finishers
1. Michael Matthews, Orica GreenEDGE
2. Greg Van Avermaet, BMC Racing Team
3. Jasper Stuyven, Bontrager Cycling Team
4. Alessandro Bazzana, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling
5. Jesse Anthony, Optum Kelly Benefit Strategies
6. Kiel Reijnen, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling
7. Gregory Obando Benes, Champion System Pro Cycling
8. Janier Alexis Acevedo Calle, Jamis-Hagens Berman
9. Ryder Hesjedal, Team Garmin-Sharp
10. Lachlan Morton, Team Garmin-Sharp
Stage 5 preview
Distance • 113 miles, from Snowbasin to Snowbird
Elevation gain • 10,611 feet
Start • 10:50 a.m.