By Samuel Petrequin
AP Sports Writer
REVEL, France — After so much bad luck at the Tour de France, Michael Matthews believed he was jinxed.
Two years ago, the Australian rider crashed days before he was scheduled to take a flight to the start of the Tour in England and had to pull out before the race.
Matthews eventually made his debut at cycling’s biggest race last year but broke four ribs in a crash in the third stage, and struggled until the finish on the Champs-Elysees.
This month, the Australian crashed twice and thought about retiring on Sunday after the toughest Pyrenean stage.
No wonder he struggled to believe that he finally won a Tour stage on Tuesday.
“It’s unbelievable. I was close to giving in at this race,” Matthews said after edging world champion Peter Sagan in the southern town of Revel. “I thought maybe this race is not for me, and I’d focus on other races. But today my dream comes true. I just won a stage of the Tour de France after two really bad years in this race.”
Matthews, who was also involved in the high-speed crash in the Milan-San Remo classic this season, profited from the work of his teammates to win the 10th stage of the Tour after a long breakaway.
Sagan, who attacked from the start in the Andorran town of Escaldes-Engordany, rode at the front throughout the 197-kilometer trek in rainy conditions, but was overpowered in the final sprint. He finished second, followed by Edvald Boasson Hagen.
With his morale low, Matthews said he was comforted by his wife during Monday’s rest day in Andorra.
“My wife and I had a good talk, and she really motivated me to keep pushing,” he said.
Finishing 9 minutes, 39 seconds behind in the main peloton, Chris Froome kept the yellow jersey. The two-time Tour champion has a 16-second overall lead over fellow Briton Adam Yates, with Irish rider Dan Martin in third place, 19 seconds behind. Froome’s main rival Nairo Quintana sits fourth, 23 seconds back.
A group of six riders including Matthews’ teammates Daryl Impey and Luke Durbridge fought for the stage victory in a frenzied finale. Sagan tried to make the most of a small climb 9 kilometers before the line, but failed to surprise his rivals with his acceleration. Impey countered the move, Durbridge then tried another attack to wear out Sagan, and the small group stayed compact until the final kilometer.
Impey then perfectly set up Matthews in the final section before Greg Van Avermaet launched the sprint in the final 200 meters. Matthews followed and easily passed Sagan to exact revenge after finishing runner-up to the Slovak in the world championships last year.
“We have such a strong group of guys here,” said Matthews, who has posted stage victories at all three Grand Tours. “The way we work as a team, whoever’s up on that day we give that rider 110 percent. You could see Luke Durbridge and Daryl Impey today, they gave me their everything. There are no words.”
The stage started with a flurry of attacks in the 24-kilometer ascent to the Port d’Envalira, the highest climb of the Tour at 2,408 meters. Sagan was in the thick of the action as the air started to thin out. Former world champion Rui Costa surged from the leading group and crested the summit with a one-minute gap.
He was joined by Sagan and Matthews in the highly technical descent to the spa town of Ax-les-Thermes, made even more dangerous by thick fog. Several riders bridged the breakaway group, which passed by the characteristic and colorful cafes of Ax-les-Thermes at full speed.
With no general classification contenders among the leaders, Team Sky did not narrow the gap, and the 15 riders at the front built a lead of 7 minutes with 90 kilometers left.
Sagan then secured the green jersey by winning the intermediate sprint at Aigues-Vives, earning 20 more points in the best sprinters’ classification.
Back at the peloton, IAM Cycling and Direct Energie accelerated the tempo and the gap dropped under five minutes with 45 kilometers to go. But under pressure of being caught, the breakaway riders started to collaborate more until Sagan accelerated, going clear in the small group that eventually fought for the stage win.