Aussies light up stage three of Tour
AUSSIE Michael Matthews has fallen agonisingly short of Tour de France glory after his late stage-three charge narrowly failed to haul in Peter Sagan.
Richie Porte's impressive surprise attack lit the fire for a dramatic uphill finish into the French town of Longwy, before Slovakian world champion Sagan overcame a pedal slip to outlast the late-charging Matthews.
"It was a pretty hard climb," Sagan said of the steep and twisting 1.6km finale.
"BMC did a good job for Richie and after he attacked in the last 800m, he got a little gap. After, I decided to go - I guess it was too early - it was 400m to go.
"It was far away. At that moment I said 'again too early'. Then I started my sprint and as I pushed I pulled my feet out from the cleat.
"It was another mistake. I was like 'what is happening today?' After I that I won. Matthews almost beat me, but I am very happy for this victory and thank you Bora-Hansgrohe."
Matthews had identified the stage-three journey from Verviers to Longwy - which travelled through Belgium, Luxembourg and France - as a prime target for a second career Tour de France stage win.
But his disappointment would be tempered by the fact he could take the yellow jersey on the 207.5km stage four from Mondorf-Les-Baines to Vittel.
Matthews sits third on general classification - 12 seconds behind Team Sky pair Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome - but on a sprinter-friendly stage with time bonuses on offer, he could sneak into the leader's jersey.
Stage three wasn't considered an opportunity for the title contenders, but Porte emerged from two tough days in the wet to stamp his name on the race.
He would finish with his main rivals two seconds behind Sagan, but not before launching a blistering acceleration with 900m to go that briefly gapped an already reduced field.
His team, BMC, also showed its power by shepherding Porte and teammate Greg Van Avermaet, a favourite for the stage, into perfect position.
"It was good and good for the confidence just to have a bit of a crack there," Porte said.
"It wasn't at all (premeditated). The guys put me in a fantastic position there in the final and I felt good. But I think when I saw that 500m to go, I knew it was a little far out. It was probably out of the question for me once Sagan came across and onto my wheel, but it was good.
"It's good for the team. They were really strong today and it was shame we couldn't quite finish it off."
It was a welcome change of fortune for Porte, who will aim to get through stage four before facing Froome and co head-on in the first big mountain test of the Tour in the stage-five finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles.
Porte sits 47 seconds behind Thomas in yellow in the general classification.
Froome is second, 12 seconds behind Thomas with Matthews third.
1 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 10:00:31
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky +12
3 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb +12
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe +13
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data +16
6 Pierre Roger Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale +25
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors +30 seco
8 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky +32
9 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal +32
10 Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb +34
11 Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team+37
12 Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team+38
13 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe +40
14 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team +40
15 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors +43
16 Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates +43
17 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ +43
18 Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott+45
19 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-Scott +45
20 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team +47