Sweet win ... Michael Matthews receives the kiss of the race's hostesses after taking the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, from Sassano to Montecassino.

Sweet win ... Michael Matthews receives the kiss of the race's hostesses after taking the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, from Sassano to Montecassino. Photo: AP

Race leader Michael Matthews won the gruelling sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday as fellow Australian Cadel Evans lurked on a day's racing marred by a nasty crash.

Matthews, 23, surged home in a four-man sprint finish to the 257km stage from Sassano to Montecassino, the longest on the Tour, ahead of Belgian Tim Wellens and Evans.

They had a 49sec advantage over the main chasing pack that included a host of overall rivals to Evans, the big beneficiary of the day's racing.

Overall contender ... Cadel Evans pedals during the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia where he finished third.

Overall contender ... Cadel Evans pedals during the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia where he finished third. Photo: AP

"It was all for the win today," said Matthews, more known as a sprinter than climber.

"It was me against him (Cadel Evans) for the jersey and the stage, and I was lucky enough to have really good legs in the final after my team put me in the perfect condition at the bottom of the climb.

"On this sort of terrain, it's definitely my best win, and totally a dream come true. Winning a hilltop finish over Cadel Evans while wearing the Maglia Rosa in the Giro d'Italia: it doesn't get much better than that."

Michael Matthews, second left, approaches the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia, from Sassano to Montecassino. Cadel Evans is on the left.

Michael Matthews, second left, approaches the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia, from Sassano to Montecassino. Cadel Evans is on the left. Photo: AP

Heavy rain made for a slick surface and there were two falls in the final 12km, 8.7km of which was a steep climb.

Evan's BMC teammate, Switzerland's Steve Morabito, accelerated away to build up a lead that the fallen riders were unable to reel in.

In the general classification, Matthews has a 21sec lead over Evans, with Colombian Rigoberto Uran at 1min 18sec.

"Everyone wanted to be in the front because of the wet conditions," Matthews said of the lead-up to the worse crash.

"The road narrowed before the roundabout, we were riding at 60 km/h, and everyone wanted to be in the front. If you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you're OK. That's racing these days. It's all about positioning."

Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) later pulled out of the race with a fractured finger and two broken ribs.

Rodriguez had targeted winning the Giro after coming a close second to Ryder Hesjedal two years ago, but he finished the stage seven minutes behind Matthews.

Friday's seventh stage is a 231km ride from Frosinone to Foligno, and Matthews vowed no let-up.

"We'll try again for the win tomorrow. We have a really strong team for the lead-outs, as we showed in the opening team time trial," he said.

"We're not going to back down now: we have two stage wins now. We'll push all the way and see how far we can get."

AFP