SALT LAKE CITY -- Michael Matthews looked at the course for the third stage of the Tour of Utah and picked his battle.
The Australian gambled that a shorter course with fewer climbs compared to what he would face later in the week gave him a decent chance at a stage victory. Matthews' goal was simply to survive as long as he could and be in the mix at the finish line.
It worked. Matthews won the stage Thursday, while Christian Vande Velde retained the overall lead.
"I can climb OK, but not if they go really fast up there on long climbs," Matthews said. "Today, I just wanted to survive and see what I had left for the finish if I was still there.
Matthews broke away from the pack twice, emerging first from the peloton in the final sprint over the last six miles. He finished the 85.7-mile stage from Ogden that featured 8,542 feet of vertical climbs in 3 hours, 24 minutes, 7 seconds. Swiss rider Michael Schar was second, and Brent Bookwalter finished third for the second time in three days.
Vande Velde had a cumulative time of 9:12.23. Thomas Danielson was second and David Zabriskie third -- both with the same time as Vande Velde. Fourth-place Peter Stetina was 30 seconds back with three stages remaining.
Matthews and four other riders, including current U.S. road race champion Tim Duggan, broke away from the peloton early. Matthews stayed ahead for much of the stage before fading on the final climb. Matthews recovered enough, however, to work his way back to the front of the pack.
"We saved a lot of energy by being in the front rather than back in the peloton with their surging and stopping and attacking each other," Matthews said. "It was a good tactical decision for us."
Duggan agreed that strategy played a part in his decision to also break from the pack early.
"It wasn't really Plan A for me to be in the breakaway," Duggan said. "But I was there and it didn't take a lot of effort."
Once he had an outside position near the front, Matthews made a charge on the final descent into Salt Lake City and barely beat Schar and Bookwalter across the finish line.
The fourth stage Friday is a 134.2-mile leg from Lehi to Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City