Michael Matthews: “Amstel is my biggest goal next to Milan-San Remo”
Michael Matthews is disinclined to define his style ahead of 2016, a season in which a set of dynamic goals may present another leadership headache between he and statesman teammate Simon Gerrans.
Gerrans has previously spearheaded the Orica-GreenEdge Ardennes Classics squad but Matthews intends to make his own play there at the Amstel Gold Race next year having finished third in 2015.
The Australians worked for themselves under a two-pronged attack at the UCI Road World Championships in September, an approach silver medallist Matthews wasn’t keen on following a narrow defeat to Peter Sagan (Slovakia).
“We’ll see once the race [Amstel] comes around what the team decides to go on,” Matthews told CyclingTips from a self-appointed training camp in Spain. “I guess they’ll pick the rider that they think is best to win the race and we’ll have to work for that person.
“Amstel is my biggest goal next to Milan-San Remo,” he continued. “My pre-season training will be planned around those two races and hopefully I can be — I know I’ll be — in the best shape possible to try and take the win.
“I think I did quite a good job with my first opportunity this year in Amstel so with another season under my belt and knowing the race now, how it’s run and how it pans out, it should work a bit more in my favour.”
The 258km one-day race was a 2015 highlight for Matthews, who finished on the podium behind Alejandro Valverde and winner Michal Kwiatkowski, while an injury-affected Gerrans assumed the rare role of domestique.
The peloton in general observed a changing of the guard at the Classics this year but even then the Ardennes, you could argue, is new hunting ground for Matthews. The five-time individual Grand Tour stage winner is more readily known for his prowess in a reduced bunch gallop than dogged duals with the likes of Philippe Gilbert, whom he held onto with gritted teeth on the Cauberg in April.
“Amstel was an exciting part of my year, being able to go with Gilbert on the climb. I never thought I was able to do that,” he said.
Matthews refuses to be typecast ahead of a new year he will tackle again with a unique early season approach, plus some new ideas.
“I don’t think I really need to put a certain target on what type of rider I’m going to be. I don’t need to really follow in anyone else’s footsteps, a Gilbert or a Gerrans, like this. Hopefully I can keep pushing and make my own rider out of myself,” he said.
Matthews capitalised on a previously untested approach to the season this year in which he made a deliberate late race debut at Paris-Nice in March. The decision to train through January and February rather than race paid dividends by way of a stage win, a stint in the leader’s jersey and points classification victory at Paris-Nice.
Armed with a now-proven tactic, a trade team he is happy at, and an influential entourage — notably including newlywed wife, Kat — the emerging Matthews has the motivation he needs to take another step up in 2016.
“[Kat] helps with a lot of things. Basically my whole life we do together — there’s not really anything we’re not involved in each other’s lives with,” he revealed. “It gets pretty full-on sometimes, we’re with each other 24 hours of the day, but we’ve made it work in the most positive and happy way possible and for the moment it seems to be working really well for us.
“We’re really happy to be able to have it this way and be lucky enough that the team allows us to do it this way also. Hopefully we can keep moving forward and finding bigger and better things for the years to come.
“I’m going to stick to the same game plan leading into the season. The first races, especially, are going to be the same,” he furthered. “It worked quite well for me this year and we’ve still got a lot of things we’re going to change for next year but the race programme will stay the same and the training programme leading up to it will stay the same.
“I think I’ll be more confident about the run-in because … it was a totally different approach to anything I had ever done before and now that I have tried it, I believe in it and I can push myself even harder knowing that it does work really well,” Matthews continued.
“Little things that I haven’t focused on too much in the past I’m going to start focusing on now to bring myself up to a higher level and I think I’m ready for those challenges.
“There’s more things to being the best than just riding the bike so I think it’s going to be an exciting year.”