Michael Matthews and Team Sunweb have produced a tactically brilliant race, with the Australian grabbing intermediate sprint points and then winning stage 16 of the Tour de France.
Matthews crossed the line in a bunch sprint, just holding off Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen and Germany’s John Degenkolb.
The Australian let out hoots of joy when he was notified he had got up by a wheel-length to claim his second stage win on this tour, after he won stage 14 on Saturday.
Matthews also closed the gap to green jersey wearer Marcel Kittel to 29 points, after the German rider was dropped on one of the stage’s earlier climbs, leaving the 26-year-old Australian jubilant.
“To get another win in the same Tour de France … wow,” Matthews said.
“Normally when I am in a tour … I can normally win one stage but the second one is the hardest to get.
“I think it won’t sink in until tomorrow morning.”
— Le Tour de France UK (@letour_uk) July 18, 2017
The stage played out perfectly for Matthews as heavy cross-winds broke the peloton apart and Kittel struggled over the climbs.
“I was trying to go in the breakaway but Quick Step (Kittel’s team) was covering me to get the points, then I heard Kittel was getting dropped and when I heard he dropped one minute over the climb we went for it,” he said.
“I took the intermediate (sprint) but we got the final, so yeah, we got 50 points today in the intermediate and the sprint.
“Once we heard that there were splits in the peloton we were all really motivated to push on and extend the gap.
“From then on it was an eight-man team time trial to the finish and I was able to finish off the job in the last 500 metres.”
While Matthews is now closing in on the green jersey, the race for the yellow continued to intrigue.
Chris Froome kept the yellow ahead of two difficult days in the Alps as he and his main rivals Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran managed to stay at the front and crossed the finish line together.
However, Dan Martin was caught out and lost 51 seconds after getting caught in a split in the finale. He dropped to seventh place overall, 2:03 off the pace.
￼Froome was seemingly happy to have one less rider to contend with in a very open final few stages of the Tour.
“Everyone knew it was going to split at some point,” Froome said.
“For us it was more about just being on the right side of it.
“Knowing it was going to kick off on that open section in the last 20 kilometres to go, the guys committed to that and we saw the gaps opening out straight away.”
— michael matthews (@blingmatthews) July 18, 2017
Froome, the defending champion, has an 18-second lead over Aru, with Bardet 23 seconds back in third place.
The battle for the yellow jersey will resume today during the first of two Alpine stages in high altitude.
It will lead riders to the ski station of Serre Chevalier through a gruelling 183-kilometre trek featuring four climbs, including a nearly 12-kilometre ascent to the Col du Galibier.