Tour de France: 'Today my dreams really came true'
MICHAEL Matthews' refusal to give up on his green dream has paid off in spectacular style, with the Australian taking the prestigious jersey in Stage 17 of the Tour de France.
The Australian is now all but certain to become only the third Australian to finish in green in Paris in four days' time after a tumultous day in the Alps.
Matthews was crowned the new points classification leader after Marcel Kittel crashed and was forced to abandon with an injured shoulder. The German was caught in a multi-rider pile-up only 20km into the mountainous 182km slog from La Mure and could not continue.
But while Matthews may be benefitting from the withdrawals of fast men Kittel, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish, he has been the enduring performer in a war of of attrition.
As rivals have fallen around him, the man they call "Bling" has ridden with panache and aggression.
Coming off two stage wins in three days, Matthews had cut Kittel's lead to nine points when he claimed the intermediate sprint from the early breakaway before Kittel pulled out.
At the finish, Matthews closed his eyes and looked to the heavens on the podium. He now leads Andre Greipel by 160 points with four stages remaining.
"Today my dreams really came true," Matthews said.
"I feel sorry for Kittel. I heard that he had a crash so I really hope that he's OK. It's never nice to get a jersey like this, but I've worked really hard for it and it's a really nice feeling."
Asked if he could hold the jersey until Paris, he said: "I really hope so. I've worked way too hard to give it away now."
Matthews trailed Kittel by 133 points after Stage 11 - Kittel's fifth win - but the Aussie had told the Herald Sun he was never going to throw in the towel.
Robbie McEwen (2002, 2004, 2006) and Baden Cooke (2003) are the only Australians to have won the green jersey.
"I feel like in this race there's no giving up. As long as you keep trying it's going to work out," Matthews said last week.
With a strong Team Sunweb behind him, Matthews' relentless pursuit of points in the harder stages and wins on Stages 14 and 16 had put enormous pressure on Kittel.
Stage 17 served up the Col d'Ornon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier, the latter returning for the first time since Cadel Evans' heroics six years ago, in a torturous afternoon.
Slovenian Primoz Roglic won his first Tour de France stage, sending his parents into celebration in front of a TV on the Galibier.
Behind Roglic, Chris Froome withstood a barrage of attacks to extend his lead atop the general classification after Fabio Aru was exposed.
Italian Aru cracked on the Galibier and slipped from second to fourth, while Frenchman Romain Bardet and Dan Martin repeatedly tried to dislodge Froome, without success.
Tomorrow's 179.5k journey to the top of the top of the massive Col d'Izoard is the last realistic chance Froome's rivals have of overcoming the three-time winning Brit.
"The war of attrition continues. Everyone has to take time out of Chris. It is going to be war tomorrow," Martin said.
"He (Froome) has a good poker face. Anyone can crack, anyone can have a bad day. It might be his turn tomorrow."
Froome said he was bracing for a bombardment.
"It's interesting to see, this late in the game, some of the guys struggling out there," Froome said.
"Tomorrow is the last hard stage with a mountain top finish on the izpard and i expect it to be a very tough day."