Michael Matthews looks on the verge of tears. Sunglasses mask his eyes, but as he pedals out his frustration on the home trainer by the Team Sunweb bus, his body language and facial expressions transmit his bitter disappointment.
He started the Amstel Gold Race hoping for so much, and was with the main favourites heading into the final 25 kilometres. Then, just as the pace was ramping up, he moved to the back of the group, gesturing urgently. His wheel was deflating and, after some confusion with the neutral service motorbike, both he and they came to a halt by the side of the road.
It took a while to change his rear wheel and by the time he got going again, the second big group on the road had passed him. He chased, but ultimately finished 24th, two minutes and 11 seconds back.
Aero jersey caked in the day’s sweat, Matthews dismounts from his bike and heads for the team bus. He stops briefly to talk, and his anguish is made clear.
“I just got a flat tyre at a bad point in the race, I guess,” he says, sniffing and sounding choked up.
“I was feeling really good until then. I was not making any moves – I was trying to save it for the final lap, because I knew that is where the winning move was going to go. On the final climb before we got to the Cauberg, it was headwind. I saw guys attacking there was no point. It was into a block headwind, so I knew I needed to wait for the Cauberg to see what I could do up there. And wait for this new circuit to see if I could try to make the difference. But unfortunately I didn’t get there.”
Matthews’ voice sounds flat, deflated. Asked if he considered this a huge opportunity lost, he agrees.
“This was one of my really big goals of the year,” he says. “And to not even get a shot at having a go in the final…that is the hardest part. If you have a go and fail, then at least you tried. But now I didn’t even get to try. I am just devastated.”
The day’s outcome continues disappointment for Matthews this season. He started the races with high hopes of Classics success, but crashed out of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. While his team initially thought his injuries were muscular, he was then diagnosed with a fractured left shoulder.
That meant he was out of competition for almost a month, returning with a highly-respectable seventh in Milan-San Remo.
Next up for Matthews is Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne. He will then do Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Romandy and the GP Frankfurt.
Does he think he can do something in the two Ardennes classics?
He blows through his lips, then answers. “I think we will see. I think we will just take every race as an opportunity to go for a good result,” he says. “I haven’t got many race days this years so far, so I am just trying to take every race as experience and try to get my body back to 100 percent for the Tour de France.”
Interview concluded, Matthews goes to get on the team bus. Team CEO Iwan Spekenbrink has been quietly watching his rider’s cooldown and, as the Australian passes him to enter the vehicle, Spekenbrink reaches out and puts his left arm around Matthew’s neck. The gesture is one of support, of empathy.
Things didn’t work out at the Amstel Gold Race, but both will hope for better fortune in the upcoming events.