Following on from his tactics of the previous stage, the 30-year-old Team BikeExchange rider fought hard to take an additional five bonus seconds during the two intermediate sprints of the day, coming into the final sprint equal on time with race leader Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
With the help of his teammates, Matthews positioned himself in fifth wheel coming out of the final corner and bided his time before launching his sprint for third place, successfully claiming four more crucial seconds. This proved to be enough for the Australian rider to leapfrog Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Bennett to move into the overall race lead.
“I came here to try everything I could," said Matthews. "With the breakaways not really going, it gave us opportunities to go for the intermediate sprints, take seconds back and take the jersey.
“I knew I wasn’t the fastest guy here so I tried to position well and sprint as best I could and, in the end, today I was third. There were time bonuses for the third place and so I got it and will get to wear it tomorrow in the time trial."
Matthews has had time trial success before at Paris-Nice, winning the opening prologue in 2016, though he will have to race extremely well to hold onto his yellow jersey. It will be a tough ask with a host of strong time trialists present with the likes of Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Mads Pedersen waiting just seconds behind Matthews' race lead.
“It is nice that the hard work from the last two days pays off and I can pull on the yellow jersey for the team," said the Canberran. "The team were positioning me all day to make sure I could get up for all the intermediate sprint and also for the final sprint, so it is a really good day for us.
“To be wearing the jersey at least for one-day, I am really looking forward to that. It is amazing, everybody is fully committed to the plan and I am just trying to execute it as best I can and I will try my best with every opportunity, I get to pay them back.
“I haven’t done a time trial yet (this season), everything has been going well with my time trial training so hopefully I do a good TT tomorrow and continue with the jersey.”
Sports director for Team BikeExchange explained the plan that had led to Matthews' jumping into yellow.
“The guys did a great job but to be honest they had to work pretty hard for it," said Hayman. "We had to chase the bonus seconds the last two days and he got bonus points in all four intermediate sprints and on the finish line today, so he earnt it and it will be nice to see him go off last tomorrow.
“There’s some great time trial riders in the peloton but Matthews is motivated and he’s got good form so we will try to keep the jersey for as long as we can.”
Paris-Nice continues with the Stage 3 time trial, a flat 14.3-kilometre stage that finishes on a short climb into Gien, with the pure time triallists still expected to feature prominently on the power-focused stage. You can watch the racing action from 12.15 AEDT on SBS HD, with race replays and catch-up higlights available on the Cycling Central website and SBS On Demand.