Matthews: If you can figure out how to beat Sagan, please tell me

Australian opens up about his move to Sunweb, the Tour de France and Gerrans

How do you beat Peter Sagan to the Tour de France green jersey? That’s the million dollar question, according to Michael Matthews, who will aim to do just that later this year.

The Australian, who moved to Sunweb after four years at Orica Scott, is embarking on a new phase in his career, and although his race programme has yet to be confirmed, there's little to suggest that the sprinter will miss cycling's marquee event come July.

At his first training camp with Team Sunweb in December, Matthews sat down with Cyclingnews on a wintery, overcast afternoon to talk about his 2016 season, how his transfer to Subweb unfolded and his thoughts on the Tour de France.

Sagan's vice-like grip on Green stretches all the way back to 2012, when the then Cannondale rider started his incredible run of five consecutive jerseys. Since then he has won seven stages and demoted the sprint classification to nothing more than a procession. The World Champion can consistently place in the bunch sprints, infiltrate mountain breaks and even ride away from the entire peloton in the closing moments of stages, as he demonstrated so effectively in 2016. The traditional bunch sprinters, up until now, simply haven't stood a chance.

When asked if Sagan is beatable, Matthews is honest in his summary: "In the last few years no, but hopefully in 2017 he is. For cycling and the Tour de France it would be good to make it more of a battle for the Green jersey. At the moment it's not even a battle, it's the Sagan jersey.

The question remains: how do you deal with Sagan?

"Hopefully I can get to the shape where I try and contest it with him. It would be nice for me, and the fans, to have a battle all the way to Paris. For the moment it's hard to say he's beatable because no one has done it but I think it will be interesting.

"How to do it? I'm still trying to figure that out. That's the million Dollar question. If you can figure it out, please tell me," Matthews half jokes.

"If you can try and outfox him a bit, catch him off guard or try and force him into making mistakes, then maybe. He's always running top-five or top-three so you've got to be consistent. That's what the jersey is all about."

Sprint improvements

Matthews certainly has the ability to perform on a consistent basis. He is not a pure bunch sprinter but like Sagan he can climb, and his kick from a small break was enough to see off the World Champion in Revel during last year's Tour de France.

"I'm not going to beat Kittel or Cavendish in a sprint so I've got to focus on what I'm good at. If I do get a good run in the sprints it's possible but it would be very difficult to beat guys who are almost double my body weight. I guess I fit into that band of guys, like a Van Avermaet, a Kristoff or a Sagan, who can do the sprints but it's not our forte. A few more climbs suit us better."

If Matthews is to become a more efficient sprinter, when it comes to the bunch kicks at least, he knows that he will need to up his game, and he acknowledges that his power output wasn't where he wanted it to be in 2016.

"At the start of this year my sprint wasn't really where I wanted it to be. I don't know if that was because I changed my training or I was doing something different but I could see from my power files that my top end power wasn't there. My plan is to try and change my sprinting ability to make it better but I need to see if I have that fast kick this year, because if I do then I will open up more doors for me."

Michael Matthews has a look at some new sunglasses

Leaving Orica

Overall, Matthews is content with his move from Orica to Subweb. The transfer hit the headlines during the Dauphine last June but was not ratified until August. The move caught many off guard - Matthews too, in one sense, because he believed that when he joined Orica he was signing on for life. However, with Sunweb on the market for a marque Classics rider, Orica putting further financial backing behind their stage racing stars, and an underling conflict between Matthews and his former teammate, Simon Gerrans, a move appeared the best option.

"I just felt that I'd been in the one team for four years. I got a lot out of it but to move to the next level I needed to change teams. There were other teams interested but the way Iwan Spekenbrink was talking to me when we started the negotiations, really motivated me. We think the same when it comes to cycling, that everyone is equal and that nobody is above anyone. That's a really good attitude to have and it creates a great bond. At our first meeting I said, this is the plan I have for my career and he agreed with all of it. When you can have a conversation like that with a team manager, that gives you a lot of confidence.

"There was an offer," he says when talking about whether his former employers asked him to stay, "but it all came down to fine details. In the end Sunweb, with all the roles in the team, it was a lot better than with GreenEdge. The way they're going to commit themselves to me is really nice and GreenEdge couldn't offer me that same thing with the GC guys they have on the team. I understand that."

Gerrans and I were like Hamilton and Rosberg

And the relationship with his ex-teammate Gerrans, which boiled over at the Worlds in 2015 was certainly a factor. When the veteran decided to take up a contract extension at Orica Scott, Matthews knew it was time to move on. However, he discloses that when he first talked to Sunweb, the team were still discussing the possibility of signing him and keeping John Degenkolb on their books – testament that Matthews has no issues with sharing leadership in principle.

"As everyone knows there was always that conflict between the two of us," he says in regards to Gerrans.

"You saw the same with Rosberg and Hamilton in F1 and they were always fighting against each other. We're winners and we all want to win. It's hard to deal with that when you have two guys have similar goals. I guess in the end one has to leave in order for you to both be happy.

"When I got offered the contract there was still talk of John and I both being on the team and I was pretty happy with that, if the team were will to manage our talents in the best way possible. I think it could have worked out great but in the end Degenkolb went to Trek. It created a really good spot for me."

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