Michael Matthews: ‘I think it’s my turn next’

Second to Pogačar, now second to Van Aert. Michael Matthews wants the next one.

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An honest sprint, Wout van Aert called it. No luck, just legs. May the strongest man win. 

The strongest man did, and it was Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) first across the line. Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) was second best for the second time this Tour de France, first behind Tadej Pogačar and then behind Van Aert, the two talents that have defined the race thus far and will likely to so all the way to Paris. 

It wasn’t so long ago that a string of close results like this would have set Matthews steaming into his bus, angry with himself or his team or the world in general. Perhaps it’s personal growth and maturity, or resignation, or simple recognition of the forces of nature he’s up against. Whatever it is, he remained good-humored, even upbeat, in defeat on Saturday. 

“I honestly don’t think I made a mistake today, I did everything I could,” he said to a scrum of reporters and TV cameras just after the finish line. “There was just a stronger rider in the bike race today, so I wouldn’t take anything back.”

The finale kicked up for just under five kilometers at a deceiving 4.6%, an average included a short downhill and a kick to 12% before a relatively level final 300 meters. It was a finish tailor made for a certain type of rider. Peter Sagan five years ago, Michael Matthews three years ago, and Wout van Aert this year. 

“On a finish like that it’s just who’s got legs left. And you see Wout, he’s climbing with the best climbers in the world on the long climbs too,” Matthews said. “To be second to him, it’s not so bad.” 

BikeExchange had this stage circled since the route came out. They worked with Jumbo-Visma’s Nathan van Hooydonck, who got a call-out from Van Aert in the press conference for his workload, to keep the three-man move close. Bahrain-Victorious’ Fred Wright was the last man standing but realistically he never stood a chance against the rampaging front end of the peloton. 

Pogačar, going for his third stage win out of eight, lined his team up on the front into the final climb. Rafał Majka was the last man and by the time he swung off the group was down to just over 30, an indicator of just how tough the finale had been. 

Matthews was still there. He positioned himself behind Van Aert, the perfect wheel. Into the last few hundred meters, where the climb leveled out, it looked for a moment like both Pogačar and Van Aert were trapped against the left barrier. Matthews accelerated with 200 meters to go but Van Aert was simply too strong. It was a clear win. 

The Aussie doffed his cap to a rival, and to his training partner Pogačar, who added a third-place to his back-to-back stage wins in the sprint for the line.

“I train with him every day, I know what he’s capable of,” Matthews said of the young Slovenian. “It’s special to see what he’s able to do, not just for himself but for the sport. The way he’s riding with such finesse, still keeps it really cool, low profile, nothing too extreme, just does his job, that’s a true champion I think.” 

There are more chances. Stage 13 into Saint Etienne has a similar finish, and stage 15 into Carcassonne, just ahead of the second rest day, is lumpy enough to make the pure sprinters hurt. Matthews just needs to get past the phenoms of the day. 

“Second to Tadej, now second to Wout,” he said. “I think it’s my turn next.”

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