Tour de France: Vingegaard sticks to Pogacar as Matthews wins stage 14

Tour de France: Vingegaard sticks to Pogacar as Matthews wins stage 14

Michael Matthews of Australia ended years of frustration with a long-awaited fourth Tour de France stage win after climbing clear of the day’s breakaway in furnace-like conditions in the Massif Central.

The BikeExchange-Jayco rider, who had shredded a large group of competitors by accelerating with 52km to race, left behind Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) as he crested the 4km climb with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) coming in third.

“It’s the story of my career,” Matthews said. “I’ve had so many rollercoasters, up and down, but my wife, my daughter, they kept believing in me. How many times I’ve been smashed down and all the time to get back up. This was for my daughter today.”

Matthews said that Friday’s stage to Saint-Étienne, won by Mads Pedersen, had been a “big opportunity missed”.

“It was a really good stage for me,” he said of the leg to Saint-Étienne. “And our team was aiming to do something in the second week. [But] the stage to Saint-Étienne went so bad for me. Today I just knew this was probably my last chance. I wanted to show everyone that I’m not just a sprinter, I can also ride like I rode today.”

Matthews, who until his latest success had been the rider with the most top-three, top-five and top-10 finishes but had not won a stage on the Grand Tour since 2019, finally squashed his reputation as the peloton’s nearly man with a solo win at the Mende aerodrome, high in the Lozère.

With temperatures hitting the mid-30s the team cars and roadside helpers could hardly keep up with the demands for cold drinks and ice. After an initial flurry of attacks led by the defending champion, Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), died down, a breakaway of 23 riders including Matthews, Bettiol and Pinot built a lead of more than 10 minutes.

It has now been 34 stages since a French rider last took a Tour stage win, dating back to Julian Alaphilippe’s victory on the opening day of last year’s race. As the stage reached its denouement, it was a familiar scenario for home fans as Pinot, who came third in Mende in 2015 and was also close on this year’s ninth stage to Châtel, again failed to land the victory.

Understandably the lack of French success is a sore point that is felt even more keenly in Mende, scene of the famous “steal” in 2015 by the British rider Steve Cummings, now the sport director to Ineos Grenadiers, when he outsmarted Pinot and Romain Bardet to take a memorable stage win. Pinot finished third then too, and Bardet was so stung by the defeat that he snubbed Cummings for a year afterwards.

Behind the breakaway here the main contenders – the race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Pogacar, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and their rivals – resumed the sparring that had characterised the opening kilometres of the stage.

It was typical of Pogacar that he would try to win back time almost 200km from the finish on the hottest day of the race so far. As the peloton left Saint-Étienne he attacked within the first 10km of the stage: his move on the Côte de Saint-Just-Malmon set the tone for an animated stage with hardly any flat racing as it headed deep into the Lozère.

The two-times champion was contained, as he has been since this year’s Tour began, by Vingegaard, who has stuck limpet-like to his back wheel since taking the overall lead at the top of the Col du Granon last week.

The Danish rider was forced to defend at the end of the afternoon, too, when Pogacar tested him on the final climb up to the aerodrome, although once more he failed to inflict any damage.

But Pogacar’s acceleration dealt a blow to Thomas. The Welsh rider, third overall and four seconds behind Pogacar at the start of the day, was unable to follow the pair on the steep slopes. He ceded 17 seconds to his rivals.

The short final climb to the aerodrome above Mende, usually placed towards the latter half of the Tour, always homes in on those whose legs are failing them. Thomas will now need to steady the ship as the race heads into its final week.

After Sunday’s’s stage to Carcassonne, the peloton heads into the Pyrenees for a triptych of mountain stages in which the final battles of this year’s Tour will be played out.