Matthews and his Sunweb team delayed a final decision on his participation until shortly before the start of stage 5, but the 2017 points classification winner ultimately withdrew from the race on the advice of the team doctors.
“Early this morning, the doctor had an early call from [Matthews] to say that he had to throw up. He had difficulty getting back to sleep and couldn’t eat his breakfast, and the fever is developing more and more,” Sunweb directeur sportif Luke Roberts said in Lorient on Wednesday.
“We’ve had a doctor with him all morning, just monitoring his progress. He was isolated from the rest of the team, just in case something could spread. The doctors monitored him and saw his condition was going downhill. He has a fever that is continuing to rise, so he’s not in a condition to start a bike race. The doctors made the decision not to start him.”
Matthews is one of two non-starters on Wednesday as Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) withdrew from the Tour due to the injuries he sustained in a heavy crash in the closing kilometres of stage 4.
Although Sunweb’s team on this Tour is built around Tom Dumoulin’s bid for final overall victory, Matthews had a certain degree of freedom to chase stage victories, and Wednesday and Thursday’s stages to Quimper and Mûr de Bretagne seemed well-suited to his characteristics.
“We waited until the last moment. For any bike rider, they don’t want to stop the Tour de France early and Michael would have contributed a lot to the team. He wouldn’t want to stop himself, but the doctors made the decision that he’s not in a state to start,” Roberts said.
“It’s extremely disappointing for him. These two stages would have been a highlight for him. We’ll miss him, but the Tour goes on. We still have seven guys here and it’s a long road to Paris.”
Dumoulin noted that Matthews’ abandon was “a big blow – first of all for himself, and of course for the entire team.”
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had won the points classification five years in a row before the sequence ended last year. The Slovakian is currently wearing the green jersey, and he expressed regret on being informed of Matthews’ abandon ahead of stage 5.
“I am very sorry for him, but I don’t think he was going for green jersey this year from what he explained before [the race],” Sagan said. “It’s not nice to abandon Tour de France because you’re sick. That’s bad. I’m sorry for him.”