How long can the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE team continue to hold the overall race leader’s pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia?
Notwithstanding the ever-present danger of misfortune – from crashes to mechanical mishaps, illness and untimely splits in the peloton – the team could lead the 3,499-kilometre Giro for several more days should their race plan continue to unfold as well as it has.
On Sunday, Canberra’s Michael ‘‘Bling’’ Matthews, 23, secured a third day in the magilia rosa – pink jersey – with his 16th place in the 187-kilometre third stage from Armagh in Northern Ireland to the Irish capital of Dublin that was won by German Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano),
After the Giro’s transfer to southern Italy, where it will resume on Tuesday with the 121-kilometre fourth stage from Giovinazzo to Bari, Matthews’ lead was eight seconds on Italian Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and 10seconds on another Italian Daniel Oss (BMC).
However, for Orica-GreenEDGE, which began the Giro with victory in the stage one team time trial in Belfast on Friday leading to Canadian teammate Svein Tuft claiming the pink jersey, the upcoming race route continues to suit their strengths.
Matthews, with the help of his Orica-GreenEDGE teammates, should be able to defend the leader’s jersey that he took from Tuft on Saturday in Tuesday’s flat fourth stage where Kittel will be fancied to win.
Matthews should also be able to defend the jersey in Wednesday’s 200-kilometre fifth stage from Taranto to Viggiano that finishes on a fourth category climb that should suit his climbing prowess against sprinters such as Kittel and quite possibly set him up for a stage win.
But for Orica-GreenEDGE, the dream won’t necessarily end there. Stage six on Thursday – 247 kilometres from Sassano to Montecassino – finishes on an eight-kilometre, second-category ascent suited for their climbers, Dutchman Pieter Weening and Italian champion Ivan Santaromita.
Whatever Matthews’ fate in this year’s Giro, these recent and next days should go down as a major turning point in a professional career seemingly destined for success after he won the world under 23 road race champion in Geelong in 2010.
For the rider whose nickname comes from his penchant for jewellery, designer trinkets and tattoos, it was a measure of his growing maturity off the bike as much as on it, that on Sunday, he took the opportunity to recognise that success has come harder than expected.
‘‘I sort of lost my way a little bit; it took me a little while to focus on things,’’ said Matthews, who last year won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana and has returned this season to win a stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Vuelta a la Rioja one-day race.
‘‘The level [in professional cycling] is so high, you can’t do any small thing wrong, you have to do everything perfectly. Doing that gets you that one or two per cent more, and I’m doing all that 100 per cent now, so I’m really happy with it.’’
Rupert Guinness will be covering the last 10 days of the Giro as a guest of Eurosport. Eurosport will be showing every stage of the Giro d’Italia live.