It was a maiden scalp on the world’s biggest bike race for the 25-year-old Orica-BikeExchange rider, who – like Sunday’s stage winner Tom Dumoulin – has now taken wins on all three of cycling’s Grand Tours.
Matthews’ victory came courtesy of a perfect lead out from South African team-mate Daryl Impey after both riders fought into the leading group after a 15-man break splintered before the finale of the 194-kilometre stage from Escales-Engordany in Andorra.
Denied a second stage win on the 103rd edition of the Tour, Slovakian world champion Sagan (Tinkoff) will take consolation from prising the green jersey off the shoulders of Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who finished alongside compatriot Chris Froome – Team Sky’s race leader – in the break some 10 minutes in arrears.
Cavendish's Dimension Data team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen, the Norwegian national champion, claims third place in the subdued final sprint, with Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R-La Mondiale) completing the top five before an ecstatic Impey rolled over the line two seconds later.
A third Orica-BikeExchange rider, the Australian Luke Durbridge, had time to celebrate his team-mate’s victory as he rolled home for seventh place a further minute in arrears.
Durbridge had been part of the leading group before being distanced on a punchy climb inside the last 10 kilometres of a sodden stage that bade farewell to Andorra and the Pyrenees before re-entering France via the Ariege region renowned for its Cather castles.
Matthews triumphs on stage 10, Froome stays in yellow
Remnants of the day’s break arrived in dribs and drabs before the peloton soft-pedalled over the line 9:39 minutes down on Matthews to confirm another day in yellow for Froome, who leads fellow Briton Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) by 16 seconds in the overall standings.
It’s unbelievable – the emotion is just sinking in. I’ve won a stage on the Tour de France after two really bad years on this race, said Matthews after his fourth win of the season. I was ready to give in and accept that this race was not for me so it’s a dream come true to get the win.
Matthews paid tribute to his Orica-BikeExchange team after they combined in textbook fashion to snare their first success of the race. “My team gave 110% for me today. They were brilliant. Luke Durbridge and Daryl Impey gave me their everything. (I have) no words.”
How the stage was won
Break: Under blue skies in Andorra, there was action from the outset as the remaining 193 riders tackled the Cat.1 Port d’Envalira – at 2,408 metres, the highest climb of this year’s Tour – from the gun. Sagan and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) both found themselves in an early break – the former no doubt with an eye on the green jersey points at the intermediate sprint, and the latter with a view to consolidating his slender lead in the polka dot jersey classification.
Neither rider could help the 26-man group stick as Portuguese former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) rode 30 seconds clear to crest the foggy summit out ahead to secure the prestigious Souvenir Henri Desgrange.
Costa was joined by Matthews, Sagan and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the descent before this échappée-de-luxe swelled with the arrival of some big names including Mikel Landa (Team Sky), French duo Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings and Boasson Hagen, stage five winner Van Avermaet and, crucially, Matthews’ two Orica-BikeExchange team-mates Impey and Durbridge.
Rui Costa of Lampre-Merida during stage 10 of the Tour de France
Image credit: Eurosport
The 15-man break combined well to build up a maximum lead of seven minutes as the gruppetto which had formed on the opening climb – and included German sprinters Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) as well as the green jersey, Cavendish – fought back to rejoin the peloton.
With 75 kilometres remaining Sagan won the intermediate sprint at Aigues Vives to move back into the driving seat in a battle for the green jersey which he has won for the past four years.
Turning point: After some early tempo by the Katusha team of Alexander Kristoff, the chase was left to IAM Cycling and Direct Energie – the latter working for their sprinter Bryan Coquard, primarily through some huge pulls by Thomas Voeckler.
With the advantage of the leaders coming down to four minutes as the race entered the final 25 kilometres, the break fragmented as Matthews, Impey, Durbridge, Sagan, Van Avermaet and Dumoulin rode clear. Nibali and Landa tried in vain to chase before sitting up and waiting for the remainder of the break.
The gap soon swelled to over a minute as the seven leaders combined well ahead of the key Cat.3 climb of Saint-Ferreol. Using their numerical advantage, Orica held the cards as Durbridge set a high tempo before slipping back while Matthews and Impey neutralised the persistent attacks from Sagan and kept the Slovakian in an Orica sandwich.
Finale: The six riders crossed the summit as one before dropping down to Revel at speed. Boasson Hagen tried to edge ahead, but got no leeway and so sat up in expectation of a sprint.
When the sprint came it was a cagey affair, the six leaders almost coming to a standstill before Van Avermaet pinged off the back with 300 metres to spare to open things up.
Matthews was able to launch himself from Impey’s wheel, and with Sagan boxed in behind Boasson Hagen and Van Avermaet, the Australian opened up a gap as he powered to the line. Sagan rounded his obstacles and closed in but ran out of road and was forced to settle for second.
Australia's Michael Matthews (L) celebrates as he crosses the finish line ahead (From 2nd L) France's Samuel Dumoulin, Slovakia's Peter Sagan, Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet and France's Tony Gallopin at the end og the 197 km tenth stage of the 103rd edition
Image credit: AFP
Besides Matthews, the obvious candidate, it was an excellent day for all the GC favourites, who were able to experience a second rest day as the hostilities were kept on hold. Sagan, despite reacquainting himself with bridesmaid duties, showed just why he’s favourite for a fifth green jersey – using his climbing ability to ensure he fought into the break and took maximum sprints once again in the intermediate sprint.
Dimension Data had their tactics spot on by putting both Cummings and Boasson Hagen in the break while having Cavendish as a Plan C should the race come back together. But in the end, they perhaps backed the wrong horse after Cummings sat up and Boasson Hagen was unable to take his first Tour stage win since 2011. To rub salt into the wound, Cavendish lost his green jersey – although he will have an instant chance to remedy that on Wednesday.
Coming up: Stage 11 – Carcassonne to Montpellier, 162.5km
With speedsters Greipel and Cavendish both recent winners in Montpellier, it's no surprise that the student city has something of a fast-man reputation.
After rolling out of the medieval fortress at Carcassonne, some early hills through the vineyards of Languedoc coupled with the threat of winds coming off the Mediterranean coast will provide a glimmer of hope for any would-be escapees.
But with sprint opportunities getting rarer than a French steak, it's hard to see beyond the inevitable. Indeed, in the town where Nostradamus studied, here's one not-so-bold prediction: Wednesday’s stage 11 will be decided in a bunch sprint.
Follow Felix Lowe on twitter @saddleblaze