Tom Dumoulin’s absence from the Tour de France has left Team Sunweb teammate Michael Matthews "totally confused", with the Australian telling Dutch broadcaster NOS: "I don’t know where to go from here."
When Dumoulin announced on Thursday that he would not take part in the Tour de France, owing to the knee injury that forced him out of the Giro d’Italia, it seemingly opened a door for Matthews to chase stage wins and target the green jersey he won in 2017.
However, the Australian explained that his focus in recent months has been geared around Dumoulin and being able to assist on climbs and in the important stage 2 team time trial.
"I’ve been making sure I can climb really well, making sure I can do a really good TTT to support him as best as possible. It’s definitely hard to take in the news," Matthews told NOS at the Tour de Suisse.
"I haven’t done any sprint training or any training that was preparing myself for my stages, and there are quite a lot of stages that do suit me.
"It’s massively disappointing, obviously. I don’t know what to do now, I’m totally confused. Even the plans to go up to Livigno from here to make sure I was really ready in the mountains to support Tom… It’s just a massive disappointment, to be honest, and I don’t know where to go from here."
Matthews explained that, even as a three-time stage winner and former green jersey winner at the Tour, he had had to make sacrifices as Team Sunweb focused squarely on Dumoulin and his two Grand Tours. He had hoped to ride the Giro, before Dumoulin decided to add it to his programme.
At the Tour, it was understood he would set aside any green jersey ambitions in order to support Dumoulin, as was the case last year.
"It’s been a big journey to this point. All the talk before the year started was around supporting Tom for the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. I was really hoping to ride the Giro, to go for the purple [points] jersey, but that changed as Tom did the Giro also, and now he’s out of the Tour also, so yeah, our plans pretty much flipped upside down," he said.
"The team’s goal was to go for Tom 100 per cent. Iwan [Spekenbrink – team manager -ed] told us from the start of the year that we shouldn’t have any ambitions ourselves – it’s just everything for the yellow."
Asked if he had any regrets: Matthews said: "Regrets? Not really, I guess you can’t really think this is going to happen."
It remains to be seen how Team Sunweb alter their approach in Dumoulin’s absence. Wilco Kelderman is a back-up GC option and team management will have to decide what resources to put behind him, and whether to hand Matthews the team support he feels he needs to challenge Peter Sagan for green.