‘Retiring wasn’t an option’: what the move to MTN-Qhubeka means to Matt Goss
Late last week South African-based Professional Continental team MTN-Qhubeka announced the latest in a series of high-profile signings: Tasmanian Matt Goss. Jane Aubrey caught up with Goss after the announcement was made, to find out how the 27-year-old has seen his past three years at Orica-GreenEdge and what he’s expecting of his move to MTN-Qhubeka.
The rumours started six months ago.
Matt Goss was supposedly set to pull the pin on his career at the end of the season.
“I heard that as well,” Goss told CyclingTips after MTN-Qhubeka confirmed they’d signed him for the 2015 season. “It wasn’t an option. I’d been talking to teams since the middle of the year for next season. That rumour also got to some of the teams because they told me the same thing. That certainly wasn’t the plan and I’m definitely looking forward to next year.”
Last Thursday’s announcement by the Professional Continental team came with some “relief” for the 27-year-old, so fierce had been the speculation about his next move. Not one to avoid questions, Goss, with his three-years at Orica-GreenEdge coming to a close at the recent Tour of Alberta, is clearly motivated by what awaits him with MTN-Qhubeka.
“It is going to be a fresh start,” he admits. “I needed a bit of a change, that’s for sure. The last 18 months hasn’t been what I wanted and what I’d planned and the same goes for GreenEdge.”
Still, it wasn’t initially an “easy decision” to join the South African-based outfit with talks well underway with Orica-GreenEdge’s WorldTour rivals. If there was a clincher for the Tasmanian, it was MTN-Qhubeka’s new recruits – Tyler Farrar, Theo Bos and Edvald Boasson Hagen – riders in a similar mould to himself.
When Goss signed on as a marquee rider with Orica-GreenEdge at the end of 2011, in a deal reportedly worth around $2 million a year, expectations followed. And not without reason. The Australian had enjoyed a phenomenal run, kick-started by a victory at Paris-Bruxelles in 2009 as his three-years with CSC/Saxo Bank came to a close. Joining HTC-Columbia in 2010, he added a Giro d’Italia stage to his palmares along with the Philadelphia International Championship and GP Ouest France – Plouay.
The best was yet to come in 2011, with his then-Sports Director Allan Peiper urging patience at that year’s Tour Down Under, after he won a stage and went on to finish second overall to Cameron Meyer. Goss steadily built up his form with wins in the Tour of Oman and then Paris-Nice. Then came the big one. He became the first Australian to win Milan-San Remo (see video below) and in doing so, Goss cemented himself as a man for harder, undulating days on the bike.
Just as, if not more impressive was the way he closed out the 2011 season. Fighting back from illness that saw him withdraw from the Vuelta a Espana, Goss worked his way back into shape to finish second by less than a wheel-length to Mark Cavendish at the World Championships.
The question of ‘what’s next?’ seemed almost unlimited. Cavendish had dubbed former-teammate Goss the only man he truly feared early in 2012. It seemed only right that Goss and GreenEdge should attempt to take on Cavendish head-to-head.
“Sometimes it was a little bit hard,” Goss admits of the pull to change his natural riding style and go toe-to-toe with the pure sprinters of the bunch. “It was never a decision by any one party. I wanted to give it a bit of a crack myself.”
Goss’ focus switched to the Grand Tours and it paid dividends early, as he won GreenEdge’s first stage in the three-week epics at the 2012 Giro d’Italia, and had two second-placings. The Tour de France proved more difficult.
“We had a good lead-out and it was really frustrating to be at the Tour and to have six sprints and you’re second and third five times out of the six, and finish fourth the other time,” Goss says. “We weren’t too far off it. Racing for the green jersey was a good option but in hindsight I probably could have won a stage if we weren’t doing two sprints every single day.
“It’s easy to look back but it wasn’t a decision of the team or myself. It was a joint decision to go for it.”
While there has been a lot of talk over Goss’ time with GreenEdge over what he can and can’t handle, what’s spoken about least is the pressure that he puts on himself. That’s especially true when Goss is struggling, which he admits he has at times in 2014.
“This season’s been hard to really stay motivated,” he admits. Program changes, hefty breaks between races. Just 51 race days. Still, there has been light for Goss with he and partner Sarah becoming parents in April with daughter Zuri.
“That’s been great,” Goss beams. “New challenges… It’s good actually because it almost brings more routine to your life so I’m looking forward to having her around. When you’re happy at home, training goes well, it’s more motivating to try and win races and to try and have something your child can be proud of.”
Joining MTN-Qhubeka will see Goss return to what he does best: the Spring Classics. Biding his time on the tougher days in stage races, back in the space where he thrives. In this regard, Goss feels he has unfinished business. At the time of his interview with CyclingTips, he was unsure of what his lead-in to the spring would look like. Traditionally, riders targeting April start their build-up at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide but with the WorldTour event not on MTN-Qhubeka’s guaranteed program, Goss may have to look for other options.
“Also it can be a good opportunity to approach the season in a different way and use January more as a build-up rather than being in top shape,” he says. “For me, finishing at this time of year I’m going to have a good pre-season already behind me with a good couple of months of training before Down Under.
“It would be a shame if I don’t race it but, at the same time it’s also not the end of the world.”
Another shot at Milan-San Remo will be Goss’ first target of his first season with MTN-Qhubeka. Also likely to be on the team for that race is another former winner, Gerald Ciolek. Gent-Wevelgem is another race Goss wants to target. He was third at the Belgian 200km race behind new teammate Boasson-Hagen in 2009.
The roster being assembled by MTN-Qhubeka for 2015 is certainly indicative of a strong showing at the cobbled classics. Paris-Roubaix is another race that burns bright for Goss. Even the Tour of Flanders –which in recent years he has ruled out after the introduction of the finishing circuit — has piqued his interest.
“I haven’t done Roubaix for the last three years because the team’s wanted me to do the Giro or, not really wanted me to do it,” explains Goss. “I don’t know that I can win it straight away that’s for sure, but that’s a race that you need to do multiple times to really learn and the more knowledge you have the better you’ll be in the future. That’s a race I’d like to put some time into. I think with the team we have, we can do a really good race there.
“Same for Flanders, I’m happy to go back and race it whether it’s for myself or in support of Edvald or some of the other guys that are suited to it a bit better than myself.”
There is one significant hurdle for Goss over the coming months as he begins his build-up for 2015. This season was the first he has not ridden a Grand Tour since 2008 — indeed he was a starter in at least two a year from 2009. He admits that it’s a loss he is going to feel.
“It would definitely be an easier situation if I had done the Vuelta or something,” he says. “In saying that I have a lot of time now before the first races of the season.”
In the short and long-term, time is on Goss’ side. Lessons were learned over his stint with Orica-GreenEdge. Time spent, not completely lost. His Giro stage victory, the team time trial victory with his mates at the 2013 Tour de France not far from his Monaco base.
“You’ve got to see good in all situations and I’ve been able to take some lessons away from my time at GreenEdge,” he says. “I would have liked to have had more results; they weren’t as good as I wanted and what the team wanted.”
It was one of the aspects which rankled Goss the most when the retirement rumours started six months ago. Why would he bow out of a career after the season he’s just endured? Goss speaks of an X-factor as being an elusive beast, but Goss believes it’s not far from his reach.
“I know it’s there, it’s just getting back to that level again and winning those races,” Goss says. “It’s the same body and I’m still the same person. Hopefully it’s just finding it with MTN now.”