PAU, France (CT) – The Tour de France’s challenging first week claimed many riders and plenty more are still feeling the effects of big crashes in those opening days of racing. Among those riders is Australia’s Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) who was involved in the much-replayed stage 3 pile-up but who has bravely continued on.
CyclingTips caught up with Matthews on the Tour’s first rest day to find out how he’s recovering from a rib fracture and multiple abrasions, and what the rest of the race might hold for he and his team. Matthews was visibly in pain as he sat down for the interview. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation that followed.
CT: You’re still looking very sore!
MM – Yeah. I’ve taken off all the bandages — I’m trying to air out the wounds a little bit so they can try and heal. It’s a little bit uncomfortable.
Are things slowly improving?
The days after I crashed were really hard stages. I think it felt really bad on those two stages because it was a cobbled stage straight after I crashed [ed. stage 4]. And then the day after that was the crosswinds and the rain. Since then the race has been a little bit more relaxed, which I can get through just sitting last wheel and not be too harmed by it.
I can definitely feel some progression in my ribs and the rest of my body so it’s hopefully going to keep going.
What’s hurting most?
Still the ribs — the fracture in the ribs is the main point. The rest of the superficial stuff is annoying to sleep with but to ride with it’s not too bad.
How do the ribs go when the pace is on?
Through the stage it’s quite bearable because we’re not going too hard but once the race really increases in the pace coming into the last 50km, that’s where it gets really tight and sore. It’s sort of unbearable — you can’t keep pushing yourself any harder; you’ve really got to back it off and go at your own pace.
You’ve made it through six days of racing since your crash. Are you hoping to finish the Tour?
I’d love to get to Paris. The plan is to try and get as good as possible for the end of this week because there are some stages that suit me. [ed. stage 13 ends with 600m at 10% and stage 15 has a flat finish after four categorised climbs.]
Hopefully I can be in good enough shape to contest those stages but you’ve got to take it day by day and hope for the best. Hopefully you wake up in the morning feeling better than the day before.
Given the improvements you’ve made so far, do you think it’s likely you’ll be ready for those stages?
It’s hard to say. It’s nice to be positive about everything but at the end you’ve got to be realistic too and ribs are not really a thing that heals in a race. You’re constantly riding really hard in the Tour and you’re not really getting much time to let the ribs recover — and that’s what they need, time to recover.
You’re always flexing them when you’re going really hard and sort of delaying the healing process even more each day. It’s hard to say how long they’re actually going to take to heal.
You lost three teammates in the first week — Simon Gerrans, Daryl Impey and Michael Albasini. What’s the morale like in the team at this point?
The morale is still quite high considering what we’ve been through this past week. It couldn’t really have gone too much worse than it has. Considering these sorts of circumstances, I think the team has still got quite good morale.
What’s the team’s strategy from here? I gather you’re still looking for stage wins?
Yeah, definitely. We’ve still got the two Yates brothers that are going really well and they’ve done a lot of recon of these next few mountain stages. They know them quite well and they’ve been targeting this sort of stage. Hopefully they can try and do some results and for myself, hopefully I can try and get ready for the stages that do suit me at the end of this week.
I’m guessing your strategy for the next few stages will be to take it easy where you can?
Yeah, just try and conserve energy as much as possible. Whether that’s sitting at the back or sitting in the middle of the bunch or trying to get through as much as possible to make the time cut.
I’ve got to talk to the team about what they think is best but I’ve found out that sitting at the back of the peloton isn’t always the easiest place to be. I’ve never really done it before, I’ve just experienced it here, and it’s not much fun at all.
Even with an injury you’re better off sitting in the middle of the bunch where you’re getting protected from all angles from the wind and guys all around you. And being at the back is not very fun because that’s where all the guys are that are depressed like you are. So you surround yourself with guys that are happy and motivated at the front — it makes it a lot easier for yourself to be motivated as well.