It is now two years since Matt Goss last won a major individual race: stage two of the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico when he rode for the Orica-GreenEdge team.
The Tasmanian did ride for Orica-GreenEdge in the 2013 Tour de France when the Australian team won the stage four team time trial in Nice. And yes, technically speaking, he did win race four of last year’s Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic series in Victoria, Australia. But even Goss, 28, recognises that stage win in the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico was the last time he beat a world-class field of sprinters.
However, ask Goss if he reflects about his drought of top level wins, or if it is just a subject that others – such as me and other journalists – painfully raise, to his credit he laughs when many a rider would understandably bristle.
On the eve of his debut for the South African MTN-Qhubeka team in Sunday’s Milan-San Remo, which he won in 2011, a relaxed Goss happily tells Cyclingnews: “I don’t look back on those things. Last year wasn’t the best of my career, but I’m really motivated for this team and feel the results will come.
“I feel more and more confident the more I race the bike. I am happy with the team and the set up they have got. They have done a fantastic job.
"Coming from Tirreno, I have so much more confidence and once the confidence starts to rise, the results start to come. And sometimes it only takes a little thing to start the ball rolling again.
“But I don’t look too much at the numbers and how many days [it has been] between race wins. Although, hopefully this year we can get some runs back on the board.”
Now, some may say they are words that any rider in Goss’ situation – he is on a one-year contract – would say. But whispers from within the peloton are of a rider who has been racing with rejuvenated verve and vigour for racings and, significantly, enjoying doing so not just for his gain but for others – unlike at Orica-GreenEdge, where he was primarily recruited to be the sprinter and clock up the wins.
At this year's Tirreno-Adriatico, Goss may not have won a stage, in an edition of the race that was all the harder for the atrocious conditions that prevailed. But he played a key role in helping his new teammates when their chances came, as he did for sprinters like American Tyler Farrar in a crash-marred stage two, where he was fifth, and German Gerald Ciolek in the penultimate stage, where he was second.
Both may have come up short for the win, but it was striking how MTN-Qhubeka’s group of sprinters, which also includes Edvald Boasson Hagen, all chipped in with their other teammates for one rider’s gain. Many have wondered how a team with big-name, previously highly-paid sprinters like will ever work together considering their own natures and ambitions as marquee stars in other teams.
Goss says it is a scenario not too different to what existed at the former HTC-Highroad team when he, fellow Australian Mark Renshaw, Briton Mark Cavendish and German André Greipel were all on the team roster.
Granted, Cavendish and Greipel were hardly the best of chums, but the team sorted its program to ensure they didn’t clash and along the way it became a hugely successful and winning outfit.
“I couldn’t be happier with how everything worked,” Goss said of Tirreno-Adriatico. “When you have a team like that, it is not too dissimilar to what we had at HTC. When I was there we had me, Greipel, Cavendish, Renshaw – everyone working together on the same team. Once you have everyone working for each other, there is that mutual respect, there is no ego, I think there is no reason it can’t work.
“At Tirreno you could see that. We were happy to help whoever put their hand up on the day because they know that when the chance comes to race for themselves they are going to have that same strong team committed 100 per cent for them.”
As MTN-Qhubeka showed at Tirreno-Adriatico, having sprinters in a sprint train has benefits. Goss believes a train need not be reliant on time triallists and rouleurs: "The best thing about having sprinters as your lead out men is that they know what they want as a sprinter. They know what to do for the next guy behind.
“When you know what you want done for you, when you have got to do that you know exactly how to do it.
"There is also a lot less thinking. You can sit on a bunch of sprinters and know they are going to put you in the right place, whereas with some other times – with time triallists and strong men – you have to kind of direct them a little bit more, and guide them a little bit more.
"Whereas with these guys [sprinters] you can just sit behind them and think about what you have to do in the last 200 metres or so.”
For Sunday’s Milan-San Remo, where Farrar is not listed to race, Goss believes such a philosophy should help MTN-Qhubeka, which has several cards to play. It also helps that the Pro Continental team has two former winners in its line-up in Goss and 2013 champion Ciolek, and that when Ciolek won, he was riding for the South African outfit. That means the team has a collective understanding of what is needed to win the first monument of the year.
“We have Gerald, who knows what to do in this bike race, and I know what to do in this bike race,” Goss said. “It’s not just us either. We have Edvald, who knows what to do to win a classic. We have Steve Cummings who just ran sixth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico. So he is in really good shape. We have a really good team.
“As a Pro Continental team, we come into this race with as much firepower as some of the big teams. But at the same time, we don’t have the pressure or stress of the big teams of having to control and do certain things that would be expected if we were one of the top World Tour teams.
"There are going to be a lot of teams that just aren’t going to let us go in a breakaway and let us cruise along and ride to the finish.”
So what of his own ambitions? And how do they fit in to what the team expects?
“I think we are going to have a pretty open plan,” Goss said. “Edvald is going really, really well. Gerald is going well. I’m doing really good. We have a few cards to play. I don’t think it’s going to be too different to when I won Milan-San Remo [in 2011].
"It was not ‘Cav is the leader’ or ‘I am the leader.’ We were both there and we made a decision on the road. It is a 300km bike race and a lot can happen between Milan and San Remo. We will have a couple of plans and hopefully I will be one of the options – I think I will be – if we are at the finish racing for the win.
"We have such a strong team and quality guys the final decision is probably going to be made on the road.”
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)