MONTREAL (VN) — Already among the favorites to contend at the world championships road race, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) has only added to the hype with a strong buildup campaign in Canada. He landed a stage win and the points jersey at the Tour of Alberta, and then won a hotly contested sprint for second place behind breakaway winner Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec — beating fellow worlds favorite Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) to the line.
At least at the moment, everything is going according to plan for the 24-year-old Australian.
“My season’s been really based around the world championships this year, with a few peaks during the season and then the buildup towards the world championships,” he said. “Everything I’m doing at the moment is for that one-day race, but it is a one-day race, so it’s difficult to judge how you’re going to be on the day.”
He already has five grand tour stage wins, but Matthews knows that nabbing a rainbow jersey in Richmond, Virginia would be a whole new level of success.
“It would be truly incredible to wear that jersey if I eventually do get to,” Matthews said. “It’s a really good race for me this year. It’s probably the one that’s suited me the best over the last few years and for the next few years also. So I’m going 110 percent for it and I’m focused more than I ever have been.”
Matthews was not in the mix on the more climber-friendly parcours in the GP Montréal, but not for lack of form. Orica-GreenEdge still drove a hard pace for much of the day to set him up for a potential sprint win, but teammate Adam Yates was part of a two-man escape with eventual winner Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) that decided the race in the end. With things developing into a scenario that suited a teammate instead of himself, Matthews couldn’t be too disappointed with the way things worked out.
“My legs were really good, it’s just that in the final we didn’t have the sprint that we would have liked,” he said. “But we also had Adam Yates up the road, which took a bit of pressure off us in the final … He ran second in the end so I think that’s a really good day for us.”
Matthews was pleased with how he felt on the day, and thinks he is where he needs to be for Richmond.
“I was never really in trouble in Québec or here,” he said. “I’m definitely in the best form that I’ve ever been in in my life and hopefully I can keep carrying it through to worlds and can hopefully do a really good result there.”
The Richmond route has enough climbs to wear down the pack and potentially weed out some of the less versatile speedsters. That suits Matthews perfectly. It also suits his compatriot and teammate Simon Gerrans, who has had plenty of success winning selective sprints at the end of long days in the past — but Gerrans has a had a rough year. He broke his collarbone mountain biking in the offseason, crashed out of one race after another in the spring, and then crashed and broke his wrist in the Tour de France. He recovered in time to start the Vuelta a España as a tune-up for worlds, but he did not do much to distinguish himself in Spain.
The team is officially backing both Matthews and Gerrans as dual leaders, and although Matthews would love to get the team’s full support for the finale, he also sees the value in having multiple options.
“We haven’t really spoken about it yet,” he said. “I guess once we get to worlds we’ll figure out what the plan’s going to be. But until now, I think we have two leaders. It’s always good to have two cards to play at the world championships. It never goes to plan.”
Matthews could have hardly asked for a better buildup to Richmond, but now he’ll have to turn strong showings in tune-up races into a result in his season’s biggest target. He’s optimistic, but he also knows he’s not the only one who could be well-suited to this year’s route.
“I haven’t actually ridden the course yet, but everyone’s been telling me that it’s a course that really suits my style of rider,” he said. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of guys in the peloton who are the same type of rider as me! So we’ll see how it goes.”