Tour Down Under stage victory remains overall highlight
A stellar WorldTour debut led to a program re-think when it came to Rabobank's Michael Matthews, and upon reflection it remains a memorable performance for the 2010 Under 23 World Champion.
Matthews' took out the 2011 Tour Down Under's third stage from Unley to Stirling and was narrowly beaten by Movistar's Francisco Ventoso on stage five to Willunga. The results aided in Matthews finishing fourth on general classification, nine seconds behind winner, Garmin-Cervelo's Cameron Meyer. It was his second win of the year having kicked the season off with a victory in Portarlington at the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic.
"My program wasn't exactly Milan-San Remo and all of those big races but I showed that I can finish those races and still be strong – they gave me a chance and I think I did really well in my first season," the 21 year-old told Cyclingnews. Matthews was speaking at the NSW Grand Prix at Cronulla at the weekend, which he won narrowly from Chris Sutton (Sky) who claimed the overall title.
Following the Tour Down Under, the Canberra-native got his third win of the year, when he took out the Vuelta a Murcia's opening stage, beating Team Sky's Russell Downing and Davide Appollonio. What followed was a surprise start in la classica di Primavera alongside three-time winner Oscar Freire, Lars Boom, Rick Flens, Sebastian Langeveld, Maarten Tjallingii, Bram Tankink and Maarten Wijnants – a selection which should pay dividends long-term when it comes to the Australian's development.
"Being in the team that we had [for Milan-San Remo], it was an awesome team. We had a little bit of a mishap during the race but that's racing and we'll try again next year and we'll see how we go," Matthews explained of the crash which split the field and left Freire and several other potential threats for the win isolated before the climb of Le Manie.
In late April, Matthews took win number four, outsprinting Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Leopard Trek) at the Rund um Köln. Matthews was the last man standing for Rabobank after Graeme Brown and Bos had been dropped on the final climb.
There was the odd podium finish, including at the Tour de Pologne and Tour of Britain, but the top step would then elude Matthews – but overall, he remained satisfied regarding his neo-pro season.
"It started off really good. I probably didn't use my head well enough. I just went into every race thinking whatever happens, happens," he explained.
"I think the stage win at the Tour Down Under was definitely the highlight; winning on Australian soil especially and my first ProTour win in the Rabobank jersey as well – you can't ask for much more than that."
When it comes to the pressure, if any, that taking on the season as a world champion brings, Matthews is philosophical.
"It does [add pressure] but I enjoyed it," he admitted. "It actually makes it more fun. It's hard to explain... but I try to use the extra pressure to my advantage."
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