Most of the pre-race converstation and punditry was around whether it would be a breakaway or a sprint to decide stage honours, with Matthews expected to be the winner if the race came down to the final few uphill kilometres. Without the likes of Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) present - all are currently racing Tirreno-Adriatico - Matthews was the pedigree fast man on the start list.
Team BikeExchange were prominent at the front of the peloton as the breakaway for the day only formed after a long skirmish at the front of the race. The final two riders, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo) and Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) were swept up on the final climb as it seemed everything was playing into Matthews' hands with just the sprint to come.
The 30-year-old has made a career out of being the rider that wins the races that are too hilly for most sprinters, while simultaneously being too easy for general classification riders to take the win. That seemed to be happening as one sprinter after another dropped off the pace, with Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) the most impressive detonation as he nearly came to a standstill with 700 metres to go.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) chased down late attacker Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) with Matthews sitting in the seemingly perfect spot of third wheel, but then the Slovenian star powered away to claim victory.
Roglič has history in this sort of finish, his sprint to win Stage 10 of last year's Vuelta a Espana similarly caught out the more fancied sprinters, but that field was absent a rider of Matthews' all-round abilities.
While the effort was written all over the Canberran's face in the finale, the legs were not quite where the Australian needed them to be after the 203 kilometre stage.
“We took control today; we knew it was a good stage for us and we tried to make it as easy a sprint as we could," said Matthews. "The boys did a great job but unfortunately, we came away with third. We gave it everything and tomorrow is another day.
“The next two days are pretty big climbing days, and we have Lucas Hamilton in great shape so we will support him 100% and see what he can do with the big boys on the final climb.”
Lucas Hamilton was sixth on the stage, a testament to his current form, though he will have eyes on the following days where he can look to improve on his seventh overall spot on the standings.
“It was a hard day, we rode a really good race, we rode all day for Bling (Micheal Matthews) and in the end it was a close one," said Hamilton. “It was maybe a little bit too hard, but it was a good day for us, and we showed how strong we are. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win today but there’s always another race around the corner and tomorrow I think is an uphill finish so we will see.”
Paris-Nice continues on SBS HD tonight with coverage starting at the earlier time of 11.20pm AEDT. Stage 7 has been amended to a shorter stage of just 120 kilometres, with the stage beginning in Le Broc and finishing at the summit of Valdeblore La Colmiane.