Michael Matthews wins third stage

ADELAIDE, Australia -- Matthew Goss took a tumble, this time from a tire puncture, and watched Michael Matthews race on without him. It didn't matter much to the Australian cycling star, because he figured nobody was going to keep up anyway.

Matthews cruised to victory in the third stage of the Tour Down Under on Thursday, while Goss recovered from the flat tire to reclaim the leader's overall jersey.

"No one was going to beat Matthews today, he was just too quick," Goss said. "I wasn't too panicked when I punctured. There were still 10 or 12 kilometers to go so there was plenty of time and it wasn't too hard to get back in."

Matthews, the under-23 world champion from Netherlands-based Rabobank, outsprinted Goss and defending champion Andre Greipel in an uphill finish to the 80-mile stage from suburban Unley in Adelaide to Stirling in the hills that fringe the city.

Overnight tour leader Robbie McEwen also punctured late in the stage and watched the overall lead change hands for the third time in as many stages. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong rode strongly in temperatures that reached 98 degrees, controlling the tempo of the peleton before finishing in 84th place, more than 3 minutes behind the stage winner.

British sprint ace Mark Cavendish came in almost 12½ minutes behind the winner, suffering from the serious cuts and abrasions he sustained in a crash near the end of Wednesday's stage.

Cavendish, a winner of 15 stages on the Tour de France, was so far back that police escorting the race mistakenly opened the route to traffic before he finished. The Isle of Man rider, dubbed the Manx Missile, was furious that he was forced to dodge private cars before finishing 130th on the stage to lie in 131st and last place overall.

Race director Mike Turtur said the incident would be investigated.

"We've had a policy in place whereby the green light vehicle is the last vehicle on the road behind the last rider for 13 years," Turtur said. "For whatever reason, our understanding is that green light vehicle was called forward of the Cavendish group with about 10 kilometers to go and we don't know the reason why police called it forward."

Goss sympathized with Cavendish, his teammate for US-based HTC-Highroad.

"It's not easy to get through when you have a busted-up head like he has," Goss said, "but he still got round."

Matthews underscored his considerable potential with his first win on a WorldTour stage, coming off Goss' wheel with about 200 meters remaining to win comfortably. Greipel was second while Australians Goss, Simon Gerrants and Luke Roberts filled the next three placings.

Goss, with an accumulated time after three stages of 9 hours, 56 minutes, 25 seconds, has a two-second lead over Greipel in the overall race. McEwen is third, four seconds behind the lead, with Matthews fourth on the same time.

"It's amazing," Matthews said of his stage win. "My team did really well for me today and got me all the way to the finish."

Greipel was disappointed that he became boxed in near the finish and was unable to challenge more strongly for his ninth stage win in the Tour Down Under.

The stage Thursday took riders from Adelaide's inner southern suburbs along the city's southern expressway into the Adelaide Hills, through a chain of small settlements separated by woods and rolling pastureland.

After a stiff climb up Mount Barker to the township of Bridgewater, the 131 riders remaining in the race after Wednesday's crashes made two laps of a steeply undulating 13-mile circuit centered on the finish line at Stirling.

Two riders were unable to start Thursday due to injuries suffered in the second stage pileup: Australian Bernie Sulzberger suffered a broken collarbone and compatriot Chris Sutton, riding for Britain's Sky Procycling team, needed stitches to close a deep cut to his left knee.

Alexandr Kuschynski, Thomas De Gendt, Luis Pasamontes and Luke Durerbridge broke away after a couple miles Thursday and led by as much as five minutes before being gradually reeled in by the peleton. Armstrong played a vital role in the chase, riding near the front of the bunch to control its tempo.

The breakaway group was finally caught about 16 miles from the finish, as was a late attack that included Australian Richie Porte. Goss fought his way through an increasingly strung-out field to reach the front of the bunch before being run down by Matthews.

"Hopefully the bad luck's over now and the good luck's to come," Goss said. "There are a couple of hard days to come so I could use the good luck then."

The fourth stage Friday will take riders from Norwood in Adelaide's inner eastern suburbs to Strathalbyn in the hills.