For the past two seasons Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) has skipped the Australian summer of cycling, preferring to stay in Europe and train through the local winter. In doing so he’s started the 2015 and 2016 seasons later than most riders — at Paris-Nice in early March. But as Matthews showed at the week-long French stage race last week, delaying his season debut is a gamble that seems to have paid off. Reporter Sophie Smith caught up with Matthews a few days after Paris-Nice and filed the following for CyclingTips.
Michael Matthews apologises for a delayed phone interview after his season debut at Paris-Nice; a debut that cemented his faith in a newfound approach to racing.
The 25-year-old was a surprise winner of the prologue and with a stage 2 victory wore the yellow jersey until the penultimate day where ultimate champion Geraint Thomas (Sky) assumed leadership.
“Sorry it is such a delayed call but I was just flat out,” he tells Cyclingtips. “For two-and-a half hours after each stage I went to the podium, did the press conference, the [doping] control and would then go back to the hotel where I went for massage and dinner. It was like 11.30 each night before I stopped. So long days.
“I think when I was fresh it wasn’t too bad but once I started to get a little bit tired that’s where I really started to feel it was making a big difference.”
It is a process the Australian may have to become more accustomed to, especially with his latest performance hinting at potential as a rouleur and not just a versatile sprinter.
“It’s a good experience to see what it’s all like,” he continues. “I guess you appreciate it more when you get your rest, rather than having to do all that stuff where you can’t go on the rollers and roll down and you’ve got to wait up to three hours after the stage to have a shower.”
For a second consecutive year Matthews made a late season debut at Paris-Nice, considered by the likes of Thomas and Richie Porte (BMC) as the first ‘real’ test of the season. The Grand Tour stage winner admits it’s a nerve-wracking tactic, entering such an event on the back of four months of training in Europe and against rivals with typically two months of competition in their legs.
“You place a lot of pressure on yourself going into a race like Paris-Nice even if you do have a lot of racing under your belt so I think going in there with no racing is even more stressful,” he says.
“But obviously from my results in Paris-Nice my training has been going really well and having two stage wins, leading the race and winning the green jersey is a really nice start to the year. It shows how, another year under the belt, from last year, is making me even stronger. Hopefully I can keep the ball rolling.”
In the lead-up to Paris-Nice Matthews was unable to gauge his form against that of his rivals, however, he says analysing race broadcasts provided all the indication he needed.
“Four months without racing is a really long time so watching other people gives me that extra little spark as I’m slogging it away in training,” he says. “I think it’s important to know the races are on and your competitors are racing full gas already.
“I watched all the races that the other guys had been doing so I knew exactly how everyone was going leading into Paris-Nice,” he continues.
“At the same time I was probably training as hard as they were racing. I went into Paris-Nice in really good shape so was just trying to not make any mistakes.”
The 2010 under-23 road world champion is confident enough in his fledgling approach that he says he is unlikely to return to the Australia summer racing scene in the foreseeable future.
“Up until I achieve the goals that I want to achieve I’ll stick to what I’m doing,” he says. “I’ve just found this strategy that works for me as a person and as a bike rider where I can train for a long period and make myself more ready than I could in a short period.”
Matthews’ tactic has not only delivered results but opportunities afforded to him by his Orica-GreenEdge team.
He marked six individual victories in 2015, one more than his 2014 tally, notably at more esteemed events including Paris-Nice, the Giro d’Italia — in which he had a stint in the maglia rosa — and the Tour de Suisse.
“When we found out that I was going to get a lot of opportunities to start winning races I knew that I had to take it with everything that I had,” he reflects of last season. “This year, coming off the back of that I need to also step up again. I’ve got to show I can cement those results and even get better.
“It’s a big motivation too for the season, getting given these opportunities to do all these big races and be a leader of Orica-GreenEdge. With the amount of talent we have in the team I think we can make some really good results this year.”
Matthews is set to lead his ‘home’ outfit at Milan-San Remo on Saturday and is perhaps better equipped than ever before to deliver at the Monument he finished third in last season.
“I’m really happy with where I’m at,” he says.