Superb Matthews takes Giro stage, Groves also on podium

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Michael Matthews has overcome a succession of setbacks this year to win stage three of the Giro d'Italia after he and his Australian Jayco AlUla team executed the "perfect" ride.

The Canberra cyclist nicknamed Bling ended a drought that extended back to last year's Tour de France, timing his sprint finish immaculately to hold off Denmark's Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).

Queenslander Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) came third in a gutsy response to being blamed by race leader Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) for the crash that marred stage two.

Evenepoel slightly extended his lead through winning one of the intermediate sprints. He is now 32 seconds ahead of Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), who moved into second despite a crash.

Monday's victory was Matthews' 40th as a professional and his third in Italy's Grand Tour following successes in 2014 and 2015, but his first since a stage win in the Tour de France last July.

He also finished third at last September's road world championships in Wollongong.

The 213km stage, from Vasto to the medieval hilltop town of Melfi, was initially flat but then rose steadily before a sharp two-peak climb followed by an undulating finish. Add heavy rain and it was a demanding ride.

That suited Matthews, who may not be the quickest sprinter but has better climbing legs than most of them. His team set out to ensure when the sprint arrived his strength would count.

"It was such a team win," said Australian cycling great Robbie McEwen on Eurosport.

"He rounded it off but the team all day long set the pace at the front of the peleton, they had the pressure on the climb, they dropped Pedersen - and though he got back they did enough damage to his legs."

After a mechanical mishap ended Matthews' overall hopes at the January Tour Down Under, he caught COVID-19 and crashed out of the Tour of Flanders.

"After all I've been through these months, this is like a liberation. It is a success for the whole team. We were perfect," he said.

"It has been such a rollercoaster this year, to be on stage three with a win (already) is more than I could ever dream of.

"That was for the boys. They were fully committed for me."

Compatriot and teammate Callum Scotson said: "We came in with a plan ... when it is hard (Matthews) can really pull something out."

Groves could have finished second but was boxed in by his own teammate Stefano Oldani after Matthews made his move 200m out. Nevertheless it was a brave performance given the controversy swirling around him overnight.

Groves had been accused by Evenepoel of causing the stage-two crash, adding "It wasn't a nice manoeuvre."

"Remco is correct," said Groves prior to Monday's stage.

"I did indeed push (Davide) Ballerini with my elbow. I felt like he was closing me into the barrier on the left. It was a defensive move - I pushed back, he then proceeded to touch of the wheel of Josef Cerny losing balance and with the chain reaction of events there was a crash from behind."

Asked how he was dealing with being called out by the world champion, Groves added:

"It is a shame but this happens in sport. Everyone will believe what they want to believe at the end of the day. The footage is also unclear, blurry pictures from above. I just hope everyone is OK."

No action was taken by the race commissaires, who deemed it a racing incident.

Tuesday's 175km stage four from Venosa to Lago Laceno is lumpy again and could also suit Matthews.