After surpassing all expectations in his debut World Tour race, Michael Matthews' 2011 race schedule is now expected to change significantly according to Rabobank director sportif Adri Van Houwelingen.
Matthews' performance was just one element of a team effort which Van Houwelingen described as Rabobank's "biggest achievement at the Tour Down Under so far."
The reigning under 23 road race world champion took out the 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.
"He [Matthews] surprised the whole world including our team because it was his first World Tour race – he wins one stage and then beaten by centimetres in another and fourth overall," a pleased Van Houwelingen told Cyclingnews. "It's a big result for him and also for the team."
Matthews was also shocked at the results: "I definitely did not expect it coming in to this, with so many good riders here," he told journalists following the Tour Down Under. "I was in pretty good form coming off Bay Crits and Nationals, so I was pretty confident that I would go alright, but definitely not two podiums."
Impressive results bring new opportunities
So pleased was Van Houwelingen with the 20-year-old's results that he predicts the Australian can look forward to a slightly more difficult schedule in 2011.
"He has conducted himself fantastically here - Michael is an exceptional talent," he said.
"I have to work his schedule out with all the other team directors because we've seen now that he's a strong guy and he can perform well in a World Tour race so I expect him to do the same in European World Tour races; perhaps his schedule can change a little bit because so far we've scheduled him for the smaller races in Europe."
A delicate balancing act
Matthews certainly had the legs coming into the Tour Down Under following the Jayco Bay Classic. The Rabobank neo-pro won the second stage in Portarlington to claim the leader's jersey – a position he maintained until the fourth and final stage where he narrowly lost to Matthew Goss.
The results led to expectations, however. Would Matthews lead the team, or compatriot Graeme Brown?
Brown was definitely leader out on the road but as the race evolved, Van Houwelingen said all eyes were soon on Matthews.
"Before the race we wouldn't put the pressure on him but during the race it was coming," he said. "You win a stage and you're in the general classification – if you want it or not the pressure is coming."
Previous years had seen a Rabobank outfit solely focused on getting Brown stage wins. This year it was a stronger, more organised bunch of men in the bright orange kits despite some misfortune along the way.
The annual Tour Down Under challenge of two ascents of Old Willunga Hill was seemingly easier with Laurens Ten Dam and Pieter Weening in the mix. Tour de France stage winner Weening, despite continuing in the event after coming to grief along with a dozen other riders ahead of the stage two finish in Mannum, would not threaten the general classification. Ten Dam was there until the end, the highest finishing climbing specialist on general classification, placing fifth - just a second behind Matthews.
"It's always easier as a team director when the results are there to motivate the riders to do their job and I must say, all the guys did a great job," Van Houwelingen admitted.