Last year it was a pre-race crash that ruled Michael Matthews out of the Tour de France. This year a mass pile up on stage 3 dented the first-week ambitions of the Orica-GreenEdge rider who started his debut Tour with the record of winning a stage in all four-stage races he’d started in 2015.
On the punchy finish to Rodez, won by Greg Van Avermaet, Matthews showed that while his body is still recovering, mentally he is ready to be back at the pointy end of stages.
Struggling to breath through the Pyrenees due to broken ribs, Matthews’ stint as the lantern rouge came to an end as he finished 13th to signal he will be a rider to watch in coming days before the race enters the Alps.
“It was a stage that suited my characteristics so yeah I wasn’t feeling amazing but we didn’t have to do too much work on the front and we shared it around between the riders to bring the breakaway back so we didn’t use too much energy,” Matthews said. “I thought, why not have a go? I had nothing to lose and I am not really worse. I am only getting better so maybe I could have pulled off a result but in the end it was nice to be there in the final and after a big crash like I had, normally I get a bit scared in finale’s like that so it was good to be back fighting for position in the final and trying to go for the win.
For Matthews, the result was a psychological boost after suffering on hands and knees in the heat and high cols of the Pyrenees.
“It was a big stepping stone for me from the last few stages. After my big crash, its been a really hard Tour de France for me and to get up there on stage 13 when I thought I was going to pull out on every stage before that is a huge step,” he said.
The high speed crash on the road to the Mur de Huy left Matthews with broken ribs and road rash but for Matthews the fact the accident occurred in a relatively quiet moment in the race left him shaking.
“The wounds of the crash, the skin that I took off plus the ribs are still really sore, also the traumatic stress of the crash is also a little bit scary as well. Especially when it wasn’t really a stressful situation where the crash was, it was just someone clipped a wheel and you crash at 75km an hour,” he said of the damage.
Matthews’ next target is stage 16 of the race with the sprint on the Champs Élysée to be one final roll of the dice after that.
“That’s the next one that suits my capabilities [Gap] so I’ll hopefully take some good confidence out of yesterday that I was there. I was around the mark with the best riders in the world still not back in 100% shape so I guess I have to take some positive energy out of that and take it towards Gap,” he said
Added motivation to finish his first Tour de France, which he “worked too hard to pull out” is a leadership role at the Richmond worlds this September.
“Also, for the World Championships this year, it will be good to get the kilometres in the legs and the power of this race and the experience in crazy finals like we do have here in the Tour de France,” he said of the importance to finish the race. “It’s going to be the same in the World Championships so it’s a great experience even if I am not able to contest a real stage win.”
For a rider nicknamed ‘bling’ for his extravagances in fashion and penchant for tattoos, Matthews has proved himself to be fighter, capable of suffering and going into the unknown. Whether or not Matthews finishes with a win to his name, the 25-year-old has learned a great deal of his character and what he is capable of when truly up against it.
“The normal me would have just pulled out and said ‘I’ll just focus on the next race.’ I think I needed to do this,” he said. “To push myself to this sort of a limit, to know where I can go to, and for the future also so if I do have a crash like this and I am in good shape to wins stages, that I am able to get through this with my head and my body.”