Make or break: Contract year for Matt Goss
Matt Goss has become an easy target for derision. As head sprinter for Orica-GreenEDGE he is there to win sprint stages at the Tour de France, but his tally stands at zero. He took a stage at the Giro d’Italia in 2012, a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico in 2013, but on the whole, his first two years at GreenEDGE have not lived up to the billing of a marquee Australian sprinter on an Australian team.
Jono Lovelock caught up with Matt Goss after stage 3 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour to find out more about how the Tasmanian has handled the past two seasons and what the future holds.
Matt Goss isn’t delusional; he knows he hasn’t performed to expectations and he knows the pressure is on. On the same note, fighting for wins in a golden era of sprinters that includes Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is not something many riders envy.
In that year Goss won Milan-San Remo and stages at the Tour Down Under, the Tour of Oman, Paris-Nice and the Tour of California. He was also runner-up at the Australian open road championships — where he won the bunch sprint for second behind Jack Bobridge who survived an all-day breakaway — and the Road World Championships, where he was second behind Cavendish, in front of Greipel.
Whether it was 16 times up Mt. Buninyong in January, or six hours around a flat circuit in Denmark eight months later, Goss looked capable of anything.
Rather paradoxically, it was the momentum from 2011 that ultimately worked against Goss; he was thrust into a spotlight that only served to magnify the two quiet seasons that followed.
Goss now finds himself in an unenviable position; he is not the kind of sprinter — by his own account — that can always match it with Kittel, Cav and Greipel. And focusing on the harder and hillier races pits him directly against Sagan.
Goss opened his 2014 account with a win at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic and has since spent many kilometres playing Simon says, riding in support of Simon Gerrans and Simon Clarke at the Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour respectively. He was in contention for a win at the Herald Sun Tour’s third stage but some confusion about the exact finish line and a dropped chain put paid to his ambitions.
First up, bad luck about the dropped chain on Stage 3 (of the Herald Sun Tour) …
Yeah there was a bit of confusion there. We actually sprinted to a banner that was at about 250m to go. I think about half of the guys sprinting were sprinting to that banner. I sprinted to that point but as we came around the corner we realised the finish was still 250m away. I just tried to swing back in at second wheel to have another go but as I did that the chain popped off.
I didn’t think it was the finish but everyone was sprinting so I was thinking “if I don’t sprint and it is the finish, it’s going to look even worse”. There were no metre boards so it was a bit confusing.
You were talking at the end of last season about returning to basics. How do you think it’s going for you so far?
I was definitely a bit tired after Down Under. We had a pretty specific goal there and that was to help Simon Gerrans to win the overall, so it’s hard for me to compare my form to previous years. But I feel pretty good on the bike. I wouldn’t say just yet that I have great legs but definitely good.
With the ‘back to basics’ approach, what exactly does it involve?
I’m definitely doing a lot more long kilometres as I spent the summer in Australia this year whereas last year I spent it in Europe. It was fine [in Europe] but it really is difficult to get the same training done as you don’t have the same conditions as you have here.
So I came back to Launceston [Tasmania] for November and December just doing long base kilometres. I think a lot of the changes are going to come from now on as well, with the race program and what races I do.
Before his HTC days — 2010 to 2011 — Goss was a Classics aspirant at CSC, which later became Saxo Bank. In 2008, in just his second season as a pro, he finished third in the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, a career progression on par with Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
“I like the races in Belgium … the classic type of races — in the wind a lot and long days,” he told Cycling News in 2008. “That suits my style of racing and my body.”
In 2009 he was third at Gent-Wevelgem, and later that year he was 32nd at Paris-Roubaix, in a large group containing riders such as George Hincapie, Matt Hayman and Greg van Avermaet.
When asked in 2010 what his favourite type of race was he told Daily Peloton: “All the classics are my type of race. I love Flanders and Roubaix.”
Two months later Goss won GP Plouay, a 248km ProTour one-day race with 4,150m of climbing. Sagan was seventh that day. At that stage in Goss’s career — and bear in mind he was only 23 at the time — it appeared that the longer and the harder the race was, the better it would be for him. If he was one of the best in the world at tough one-day races at just 23, what could he achieve ten years down the track?
And this all came before his breakout 2011.
A move to Orica-GreenEDGE on a three-year contract from 2012 onwards, however, changed his focus from the Classics to the pure sprint stages.
In your earlier days you were focusing on the Classics — and doing really well — but now you’re signed to GreenEDGE as the lead sprinter and you obviously have to focus on the “big” Grand Tour sprints. Is that something that you’ve planned or has it just happened?
That was something that we spoke about when I came to the team; I wanted to have a crack at them and try to see how we go there. The first year wasn’t too bad — I had seven, eight, nine finishes in the top three at Grand Tours, as well as one win [at the Giro d’Italia]. I was also going really well at the green jersey classification at the Tour de France as well until I got rubbed 30 points.
My focus has definitely gone away from the Classics and that is what we’re going to try and go back to a bit more this year. I’ll still do the big bunch sprints at the Grand Tours but more so try and focus on the ‘little bit harder’ stages where there are less sprinters. They are the type of stages I used to focus on a little bit more in 2010-2011.
So races like GP Plouay that you won in 2010 with over 4000m of climbing, that’s what you really want to do well at again?
Yeah … I mean, there are not as many opportunities in Grand Tours for those kinds of stages, but I think my chances of winning them are a lot better. Milan-San Remo obviously has one of those parcours and the stage I won in the Giro in 2010 finished up a four-five kilometre drag.
They’re the kind of stages that, if there are sprinters left, they’re usually a lot more tired than myself. If they’re not there at all, then it makes my job a lot easier.
You’ve previously said you weren’t going to do the Giro. Are you going to do more Classics instead?
Honestly, it’s still something we’re discussing. I was planning on going back to California but we’ll see what it’s like when we get close to the Giro. The Giro this year doesn’t look like such a bad course.
I know I said I didn’t want to go back there but it might be something that I end up doing because it starts with a team time trial, that we’ll have a really good team for. Then there are six sprint days in the first 12 days so it could be something. Well I could go for the first 10 to 12 days rather than flying to America and doing California. But that’s something we haven’t fully decided on yet.
One thing that is for sure is that last year I did Down Under, the Classics [San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders], then Romandie, Giro, Suisse and the Tour [76 race days by the end of the Tour]. I think it really took its toll on me.
In 2011, aside from San Remo, you nearly won Nationals, you won stages at Bay Crits, Down Under, Oman, Paris-Nice and California. Obviously no sprinter wants to ‘not’ focus on the Grand Tours, but do you think that if you had the freedom to hit top form at these one-week tours, you could bag a bucket-load of wins?
Well 2011 was quite a good run that’s for sure, but ideally if you can win one Grand Tour stage it’s better than winning two or three smaller stages.
I haven’t always been the kind of rider to win heaps of Grand Tour stages, but when I came here [to GreenEDGE] I maintained to the team that I’m not like Cav or Greipel who’ll win 25 races a year. My best year was 2011 and I think it was five or six wins for the year. I generally don’t win a lot of races but the races I do win are pretty good-sized races.
Does it add pressure to you now that it’s contract renewal year and there’s all this pressure to get that big Tour de France win?
I think the most pressure comes from myself and that’s always been the way. Obviously being close a few times at the Tour is frustrating [in 2012 Goss podiumed five times at the Tour], but I still really want to get that win.
The pressure from media and from the team and everything, yeah it’s definitely there if you think about it. But it’s no different to the pressure that you put on yourself. I think that’s the same with most bike riders. You want to get the results more than you want to make someone else happy.
There will be heaps of pressure this year [at the Tour de France], and it’s not going to be easy — the Tour is the Tour. Especially nowadays with the sprints stages that are there … well, to get that win I’ll really have to pinpoint exact stages to target.
Are you in talks with the team for next year, or are you interested in going elsewhere?
It’s just too early in the year to think about any of that kind of stuff. I’m more worried about trying to get the wins and trying to get the results that I’ve wanted to get for the last couple of years. If I can get those runs on the board then I’ll see what my position is after that.
At the end of all of it, do you think some people forget that you’re still only 27?
Ha, yeah it is funny [laughs] you read some things that aren’t too flattering. I tend not to read too much because it doesn’t do your head any favours. I’ve been around the sport for a long time — this is my eighth year pro, and it probably is easy to forget that I’m only 27.
I’m one of the most experienced guys in our team — we’ve got quite a young team — and for a lot of bike riders that go on to win a lot of big races it tends to happen from 26-27 onwards. It’s easy to forget my age but obviously given the results that I had when I was 24-25, people expect a lot more and I expect a lot more.
Ultimately, if you get back to those winning formulas, people don’t really care what age you are.
About the author
Jonathan ‘Jono’ Lovelock has raced with a variety of Australian national teams, various continental teams and travelled the world a few times over, and is still just 24 years of age.
While trying to find constructive ways of procrastinating during his commerce degree Jono discovered the art of blogging and the rest is history. When not busy riding he was writing and what started as nothing more than a fleeting foray has snowballed into regular features with RIDE Cycling Review and full-time employment with Cyclingnews.com.
Now a free agent again Jono is busily preparing himself for a return to racing, but not without the odd story in between.