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Matthews clinches green jersey, Froome takes Tour

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Canberra cyclist Michael Matthews has won the Tour de France’s coveted green jersey – becoming just the third Australian to do so – while, riding a bright yellow bike to match his leader’s jersey, defending champion Chris Froome won his fourth and most challenging Tour title overnight, Australian time.

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Matthews topped the overall points classification for sprinters after the 21-stage cycling race, finishing well ahead of Germany’s Andrew Greipel to be officially presented as the sprint king in Paris.

“It’s really a dream come true to stand there with the green jersey,” the 26-year-old Matthews said.

The Team Sunweb rider entered Sunday’s final stage just needing to finish the mostly processional climax to the three-week race.

In doing so he joins Robbie McEwen (2002, ’04 and ’06) and Baden Cooke (’03) as Australians to have finished cycling’s biggest race as the top sprinter.

Froome claimed the overall leader’s yellow jersey, while Matthews’ Sunweb teammate Warren Barguil won the polka dot jersey as the king of the mountains.

Britain’s Simon Yates, riding for Australian team Orica-Scott, won the white jersey for the best under-25 rider.

This was the third successive overall win for Team Sky rider Froome. The 32-year-old Kenyan-born British rider finished 54 seconds ahead of Colombian Rigoberto Uran overall, the smallest margin of his wins.

His first in 2013 came the year after former teammate Bradley Wiggins sparked off a mini-era of British dominance.

Frenchman Romain Bardet, runner-up last year, placed two minutes, 20 seconds behind in third place, denying Spaniard Mikel Landa – Froome’s teammate – a podium spot by just one second. Italian Fabio Aru finished fifth.

As per tradition, the 21st stage was reserved for sprinters and mostly a procession for Froome and the other overall leaders.

Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen won the final stage.

Matthews’ performance at this year’s Tour further establishes him among the high-profile sprinters of the sport, including Slovak world champion Peter Sagan, who was disqualified from the Tour for a crash involving British rider Mark Cavendish during the sprint finish on stage four.

“It’s been a rollercoaster with a lot of highs and lows,” Matthews said of this year’s race.

“The second week was when mine and Warren’s dreams started to come true.

“We more or less took it in turns with the wins and continued the momentum together, along with the rest of the team. To bring these beautiful jerseys to Paris is really something special and a moment I will remember forever.”

Matthews revealed that his darkest moment on the Tour provided the catalyst for his green jersey triumph.

His breakthrough success came 12 days after he was almost ready to concede defeat when a bungled sprint lead out on stage 10 saw him finish 13th as Marcel Kittel won yet another stage to lead by over 100 points.

Ultimately, five-stage winner Kittel was forced out of the tour by injury on stage 17, but only after Matthews had won two stages and ridden so well, closing the gap so that a deciding final stage sprint down the Champs-Elysees seemed a real prospect.

Matthews said the mess up on stage 10 prompted a rethink at Team Sunweb, which went on to enjoy great success and Matthews’ French teammate and roommate Warren Barguil also won two stages, prevailing in the mountains and clinching the polka dot jersey for best climber.

“That (stage 10) was one point where I thought it was really over, my chance to win this jersey,” said Matthews.

“I think we were 160 points behind at that point. We had a big discussion with the team with what we were going to do – which jersey we were going to fight for.

“In the end, we tried for both (green and polka dot jersey). Somehow, some way we pulled it off and it’s a really special feeling.

“I don’t really have any words, really. Everyting just sort of fell into place.

“Our dreams just started coming true at the same time. I think me helping him also helped him [Barguil] achieve his dreams too.”

Matthews’ performance at this year’s Tour further establishes him among the high-profile sprinters of the sport, including Slovak world champion Peter Sagan, who was disqualified from the Tour for a crash which eliminated fellow green jersey contender Mark Cavendish during the sprint finish on stage four.

-AAP, AP

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