Where it went wrong for Matt Goss: “The last two years haven’t been perfect”

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Matt Goss is determined to strike early in 2016 and quickly repay the faith new team One Pro Cycling has showed in signing him on the back of some self-assessed “bad” years.

The ink on the contract with the British squad founded by former England cricketer Matt Prior has barely dried but 28-year-old Goss is no less motivated to turn around a hapless streak that has haunted him since 2014.

Plainly speaking, Goss has not been the same versatile sprinter who led the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice and won Milan-San Remo in 2011 with HTC-Highroad. Nor has he been the same rider that celebrated a stage victory at the Giro d’Italia, marked a string of minor places at the ensuing Tour de France and finished third on the points classification as the No.1 man at Orica-GreenEdge in 2012.

With One he has another opportunity to wipe the slate clean, as he had hoped to do at MTN-Qhubeka this year, and start afresh.

Goss is confident One, which has celebrated his signature, will garner the Pro Continental licence it has applied for. In doing so it has the chance to provide a race program outside of the UK domestic circuit that the outfit has prospered on in its inaugural term, to help spur the Australian back to his best.

“I think we will get a lot of good races and I’m confident the races will be not too dissimilar to years in the past,” Goss told CyclingTips in a phone interview from Monaco.

“Okay, we’re not going to have a Tour de France, or probably a Grand Tour, you’re not going to have every WorldTour race that’s on every weekend, but as long as I can find those certain races throughout the season that suit me then that’s all I need for motivation.”

Goss taking the biggest win of his career, the 2011 Milan-San Remo.

A two-year winless run has not been a reflection of lost drive or reshuffle of priorities synonymous with first-time fatherhood, Goss said, rather a divergence from a proven role, the burden of outward team leadership and injury.

When Goss competed for Highroad (2010-2011) he did so alongside the likes of Tony Martin and Mark Cavendish so the pressure of heavy expectation was spread across different and broader shoulders. That wasn’t the case in 2012 when he was the marquee signing of the first Australian WorldTour team, GreenEdge, which at least in its inaugural year in 2012, and 2013 somewhat, put almost its entire weight behind the Tasmanian.

With that weight came an expectation, self-imposed and otherwise, that saw Goss try to alter his style, with mixed effect.

“I don’t win 10-15 races [a year], I never have,” he said. “I like to go through the season, pick out five, six, seven good races that suit me, really target them and then try and help the team in other events.

“That was the big thing from 2012-2015 is that I tried to go from winning those five really good races a year to trying to win every race I went to. We tried to make myself more of a pure sprinter and, you know, I look back and that wasn’t what I was ever good at before.

“I need to go back to doing what I was doing, which was helping out a percentage of the time and then really targeting the races I like and focusing hard on them.”

Goss claims stage 3 of the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

The benefit of hindsight shows the change of pace with GreenEdge didn’t suit him. But Goss doesn’t begrudge the weight of expectation that was financially remunerated.

“Sure they expected a lot and so did I after the year I had before [in 2011],” he reflected.

“I put a lot more expectation on myself, the team had a lot of expectation on me and the Australian public had a lot of expectation as well being in the first Australian team. Like I said, I think I just tried to change a bit too much as a rider to try and focus on those big bunch sprints, which I’d never really won in the past.

“I finished second and third on five out of six sprint stages at the Tour de France in 2012. If we weren’t doing intermediate sprints every day and going in breakaways, chasing points and following [Peter] Sagan for the green jersey, I could have maybe won one of those stages that I lost by half a wheel, and then that would have been a completely different season,” he continued.

“But I don’t blame them for that. That was our decision and we spoke about it. Maybe we bit off a bit more than we could chew, especially in the first year when you’re trying to put together a lead-out train in a new team, getting it all to gel, and then aiming for the green jersey at the Tour de France and all the biggest races in the world.”

Goss’ last individual UCI-classified win was stage 2 of the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico.

Goss had an hours-long and frank discussion with Matt Prior during a meeting in Nice recently where a deal was firmed following a telephone call the former made, asking to meet in person. From there the process was swift.

“The last two years haven’t been perfect so they wanted to chat about that and I wanted to see where they wanted to go with the team,” the ninth-year professional said. “The chat was about what they want me to do in the team, what they see me doing and then vice versa.”

The savvy Prior has a fresh take on cycling, coming from a different professional sport, which marries with Goss’s desire to start over again.

“When you look from the outside you see something and then when you get on the inside of it you can see things that everyone else doesn’t. Most people involved in cycling have been in the sport their whole life,” he said.

Goss concluded his 2015 season and one-year deal with MTN-Qhubeka at the Abu Dhabi Tour this month. His ‘clean slate’ with the Pro Continental team was dirtied by crash-related injuries that resulted in just 44 race days, albeit from February through to October.

Goss said an almost equally low number of race days in his final season with Orica-GreenEdge in 2014 had a knock-on effect that, together with injury, contributed to a lackluster 2015.

“In 2014 I think between GreenEdge and myself we’d already figured it wasn’t going the way we wanted it to and I didn’t get to do a lot. My race program was pretty small that year and constantly changing. After a while it was so difficult to focus on a race that I hoped for whatever form I was in when I turned up,” he said.

“This year was probably a bit my own fault. Every year before last I’d done two Grand Tours a year for nearly four years. In 2014 I didn’t do any Grand Tours, mid-40 race days [ed. 43] and had a big break at the end of the season.

“Honestly, I kind of didn’t allow for the smaller amount of racing in my pre-season. I just did everything as normal and then when I came back I wasn’t at a level that I should have been at because I didn’t factor in that I hadn’t done so much racing.”

Matt Goss wins stage 1 of the Tour Down Under in 2011. He also won the Cancer Council Classic just before the Tour, and went on to finish second overall in the Tour Down Under.

There wasn’t an option for Goss to stay at MTN-Qhubeka, which has confirmed three-year deals with some of his old Highroad sparring partners in Cavendish, compatriot Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel for next year.

“This year it could have worked really well with all the sprinters we had there but it just seemed we didn’t quite gel,” he said. “With Cav, Renshaw and Eisel it’s going to be really top-heavy. I think they will do very well but there is a lot of sprinters on the team and a lot of good bike riders that are very similar. For me, it was best to find something new and different and try and have that fresh start I’d hoped for this year.”

Goss dislocated ribs and moved a disc in his neck, which pinched a nerve down his arm and sidelined the 2011 road world silver medalist for about a week during the Spring Classics. He then crashed at 60km/h in a sprint at the Tour of California in May, further impeding his wishes of a fresh start.

“I wanted to just forget about the year before, which wasn’t super, and it seemed like every time I built myself up I crashed or damaged myself again and would have to fight back,” he said.

“It was a tough year but I am still motivated that’s for sure. If I wasn’t, I could go back and sit on the couch and not worry about riding a bike. But I still want to win bike races and I still want to be at the front of the races and successful in the sport.”

Goss hasn’t got a race program blueprint as yet but the new mutually beneficially partnership with One has restored his ambition whatever the schedule ends up being.

“They have put their confidence in me after a couple of bad years so I really want to make sure I hit the ground running and start off on a really good note,” he said.

“I’ve finished the season a little bit later than usual so I’ll probably have a shorter break and then really focus on the early part of the season and try to show and give the guys some confidence.”

Twitter: @SophieSmith86

Further reading

How MTN Qhubeka will revitalise Goss, Boasson Hagen, Farrar – November 2014
‘Retiring wasn’t an option’: what the move to MTN-Qhubeka means to Matt Goss – September 2014
Make or break: Contract year for Matt Goss – February 2014

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