• Michael Matthews was off the pace on Stage 10. (Getty)Source: Getty
Devastated by his 13th place in stage 10, Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) arrived at the team bus after the race at a low ebb. He has speed and support but he needs to find an answer to overcome a sprinter like Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floors) as he continues his quest for the green jersey.
Rob Arnold

Cycling Central
12 Jul 2017 - 5:19 AM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2017 - 7:21 AM

It was a confused lead-out. Some of the usual suspects were there; plenty were missing. Katusha-Alpecin and Cofidis were clearly of the opinion that Alexander Kristoff and Nacer Bouhanni could deliver a reward in stage 10. These teams set the tempo of the peloton for much of the day but their sprinters were fifth and sixth in Bergerac.

These teams set the tempo of the peloton for much of the day but their sprinters were fifth and sixth in Bergerac.

Kittel the king of the sprinters on Stage 10
Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floors) reaffirmed his status as the king of the sprints in Stage 10, recording an imperious win in Bergeracfor his fourth victory of the 2017 edition of Tour de France.

Once the escapees were caught, Lotto-Soudal was in command. André Greipel is still hunting his win at Le Tour 2017. His team-mates delivered him to the front of the race in the lead-out. He finished 12th.

A solitary lead-out train at the front of affairs with five kilometres to go is a little odd these days. And before long, a couple from Direct Energie infiltrated the head of the peloton. No reward: 11th for Thomas Boudat.

It was a sprint. It’s the 104th Tour. It means the winner is Marcel Kittel. This time, he did it in green. Make that four out of 10 – and that’s not a rating, that’s his victory tally.

For Australians, the interest on days like this – 178km on flat terrain in the Dordogne - lies with Michael Matthews. He did, after all, attack at the start of stage nine, crest two HC climbs in the lead group and collect 20 points.

He is the Aussie who won a stage last year. He is the rider who can make Richie Porte “the happiest guy on earth”.

To do that, however, he needs to win the green jersey.

Matthews was second to Kittel after nine stages: 212pts leading 160.

After stage 10, it has shifted even further in favour of the German: 275 to 173.

The stage wins mean a lot for Kittel and he’s collecting them regularly. For Matthews, the quest has been points but he didn’t collect many in stage 10. He was devastated.

Watch the sprint. There they all are, jostling for position; lead-out worker peeling off, sprint specialists hitting ‘turbo’… and, inevitably, Kittel throwing his arms in the air while everyone else bows their head. Close. But not close enough.

In Bergerac, the others conceded quite early. Kittel’s dominance had demoralised them.

Look back there though, in the background: there’s still one guy giving his all – and, in fact, moving up quite fast. Michael Matthews started from a long way back but he was never in contention for the win. He crossed the line unlucky in 13th.

He didn’t go straight to the team bus. He rode around the block and gathered his thoughts while trying to calm down. As he crossed the line, he let out a huge howl.

The win eludes him, the points collection is growing only slowly, and he let the frustration out. “If you want to go for the [green] jersey, you need to be up there every single day,” he said once he did emerge from the team bus.

“Until now I’ve been pretty consistent with that but with this finish, it’s a bit disappointing.”

When he arrived at the team bus, Matthews only wanted to disappear. “Where is the hotel?” he asked team staff. Then, still on the bike, he bent over and rested his head on his forearms and wept. He remained like that for minutes and eventually, Nikias Arndt came over and tried to console his team-mate.

It must have worked, Matthews stepped off his bike and went into the bus.

Eventually he emerged and prepared to ride to the hotel with others from Sunweb, but first, he answered a few questions.

What was the howl about? Frustration being vented? “Yeah, I think knowing that now if I want to go for [the green jersey] it’s going to be a long battle.”

What does this mean for the bigger picture? “I don’t know. Obviously, we’ll have to have a chat with everyone tonight and see what we did wrong, what we can do better next time…”

Can you still win green? “I think that’s something we’ll have to discuss tonight – whether we keep going for it or we give it a miss, stop going for the intermediates and just focus on stage [wins].”

To win sprints, I said, you need your mojo. Have you lost your mojo?

“Um. Nah. My mind is totally there but I think… er, I don’t know. It was a miscommunication with the lead-out train today but we weren’t where we said we wanted to be in the meeting. And it left me with a long sprint to even try to get into the top 15 to get to any points.”

He is a professional. He knows what needs to be done and how to do it. But in Bergerac, it didn’t happen.

“I think normally we’ve been going quite well,” he said. “Today was really one of the days where we needed to nail it. We didn’t.”

It’s not over yet. Stay tuned. There’s fire in that belly and he’ll deliver something to celebrate some time soon.

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