SALT LAKE CITY — Australian cyclist Michael Matthews proved he's pretty good at mind games.
The former U-23 world Champion who is riding for Rabobank Cycling won the third stage of the Tour of Utah Thursday with a surprising sprint after breaking away from the pack for most of the 86-mile course.
"I only came for the Tour of (Utah) for today's stage and tomorrow's," said Matthews, whose aggressive riding earned him the Stage 3 win with a time of 3:24:07 and the tour's sprinter's jersey. "The rest is just training. Today was just trying to survive until the finish because it was a shorter stage. … I was just trying to survive and see what I had left at the finish."
What he had left was enough to pull off an upset, thanks in part to a couple of guys from other teams.
"I didn't do a very good tactical job in the finish," said Matthews. "It's hard when haven't got your lead-out team here which is usually with you at every race. But coming to this race where it's more of a climber's race, so we didn't bring our lead-out racers because they may not get to finish."
So instead of following the riders he trains with, he spotted a couple of others known for their ability to turn on the speed.
"Freddy Rodriguez (EPM-UNE, Colombia) I saw him and I tried to follow him because I heard he's a pretty good sprinter," said Matthews of the final kilometer. "Then it got a bit messy, and couple guys came underneath in the last corner. With 800 (meters) to go, I lost a couple of positions. And then Rory Sutherland started moving up with about 300 to go, so I just followed him. I started my sprint with 200 to go, and luckily I still had the legs for the finish."
Matthews edged Sutherland, who won Stage 1, for the victory. He said he didn't set out to win Thursday's stage, but the opportunity presented itself and he tried to grab hold.
"It was fairly bit of mind games," he said of trying to sprint the finish after riding in a breakaway pack of five or six riders most of the day. "On that last climb, I was trying to keep a little gap (between himself and the main group), and stay as far ahead as I could until the top of the climb; but they caught me with a K (kilometer) and a half to go."
When the group caught him, it was flat and he managed to stay near the front and just keep pace with the powerful pack.
"I think I was pretty lucky when they caught me at the top of the climb," he said.
Also part of that initial breakaway group was reigning U.S. professional champ Timmy Duggan. He said breaking away so early in the 86-mile course was a no-brainer.
"It's never easy," he said of breaking from the main peloton of riders, "but a lot of times the breakaway starts and it's more of a tactical thing than anything. Michael and I were both there at the bottom of the decent and it didn't take a genius to know that's when the breakaway was going to go, when Garmin was sort of regrouping their team to set up shop. We just rolled through, kept the momentum going and got a little group together without much effort."
Both men said that riding the bulk of Thursday's stage in a smaller group was an advantage.
"I am still in contention for the G.C. (general win), and I have the King of the Mountain (jersey)," said Duggan, who rides for Liquigas-Cannondale. "And I really didn't have to deal with the peloton all day."
Added Matthews, "I think we saved a lot of energy by being at the front and not being back with the full peloton. I think that was a good tactical decision."
Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda retained the yellow jersey, but he had the overall time as two of his teammates — Tom Danielson and Dave Zabriskie. Another teammate, Peter Stetina, is in fourth place.
Jeff Louder of UnitedHeathcare earned the Best Utah Rider jersey during Thursday's stage. He holds a 10-minute lead over the next fastest riders, including the man who wore it for the last two days, Skyline graduate Connor O'Leary of Bontrager Livestrong.
The man who has won the Tour of Utah for the last two years, Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma-Quickstep, is in 39th place trailing by two minutes and four seconds after three days of racing.
Three riders were disqualified for holding onto a motor vehicle during a climb, race officials said. An fourth rider didn't start due to illness.
The race continues Friday with the longest stage, which starts at Xango in Lehi and ends at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City.