Rabobank's Michael Matthews's start to the Amgen Tour of California was as up and down as the race profile on Sunday. The Australian was one of two sprinters to make the diminished leading peloton on the climb of Coleman Valley Road, together with stage winner Peter Sagan, but a high-speed crash with 3km to go left the 21-year-old's hopes of a stage win in Santa Rosa bouncing down the tarmac.
What's worse, it was the second high-speed get-off of the year after his wreck in stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico, and while he escaped too much physical damage this time, his nerves have been rattled.
"I'm not really sure [what happened in the crash], I think I was just maybe a little stressed and a little touch of wheels and unfortunately I ended up on the ground," Matthews told Cyclingnews. "I have a little skin off my elbows and knees. It's not really a problem, it's more the mental part that's sort of rattled me a bit. There will be a couple more stages for me, so hopefuly we can get the morale back in the team and hopefully get some results in the next couple of days."
Although Matthews claimed Rabobank's first win of 2012 in the Clasica de Almeria, he's had no luck in recent months. He crashed in Tirreno-Adriatico, missed Milan-San Remo, and even in the Tour Down Under in January, where last year he won a stage, he couldn't get the results he wanted. More recently he tweaked his back and it has only just gotten back to full strength.
Matthews certainly has plenty of form coming into the Tour of California, being one of few riders able to keep pace with the climbers on the first big uphill challenge while riders like Tom Boonen and Fred Rodriguez had to chase hard to get back to the front.
"I was on [the peloton] the whole time," the 21-year-old explained. "There were about 15-20 guys in the front bunch over the climb and we had five or six riders in there. It shows our team is really strong. I think there was only me and Sagan in the group [of the sprinters]. Hopefully I can try and give him a run in the next couple of days and see how I go. It shows the form is good and the climbing's good, all I need now is the results."
Matthews feels there is one element missing to his chance for success here, and that's his teammate and fellow countryman Graeme Brown, his friend and main lead-out.
"I normally need Graeme Brown to do a really good lead-out for me. Every race we start together I usually win. He was supposed to come to the Tour of California, but they changed their minds and took him to the Giro d'Italia instead, which I wasn't too impressed about. I was told from this time last year that he was going to come, because he was going to come last year as well and didn't end up coming. It would be a lot easier with him here for this week because it's a really good wheel to follow and he's really smooth through the bunch. It makes it a lot easeir for me."