Michael Matthews is currently enjoying his belated honeymoon in the Maldives and perhaps looking back on what was a successful 2015 season.
The 25-year-old from Canberra has progressed from winning the Under 23 world road race title in 2010 to become one of the team leaders at Orica-GreenEdge and a contender in a wide range of major Classics and other races. He finished third in Milan-San Remo behind John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff and was third in the Amstel Gold Race after going with Philippe Gilbert on the Cauberg climb. He was second in the Grand Prix Cycliste du Quebec in Canada and second in the world road race championships, winning the sprint behind Peter Sagan.
Orica-GreenEdge’s success in the opening team time trial at the Giro d’Italia allowed Matthews to wear again the leader's pink jersey and he again won a stage at the Giro d’Italia while leading the race. Other victories came at Paris-Nice, the Vuelta a Pais Vasco and the Tour de Suisse. Matthews also learnt to suffer in 2015, finishing his debut Tour de France after riding for much of the race with fractured ribs.
Matthews was hugely disappointed after is second place behind Sagan in Richmond and bemoaned a lack of clarity in the Australian team tactics that meant Simon Gerrans was allowed to ride for himself in the finale rather sacrifice his chances to help Matthews. However, Matthews has denied there are any serious issues with Gerrans, and the two will again be teammates in 2016.
In this exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, Matthews describes 2015 as his best ever season due to his results in the Classics. He explains how suffering at the Tour de France taught him how to suffer more than ever and how he is happy to have an even bigger leadership role at Orica-GreenEdge in 2016 as he tries to transform podium places in Classics into victories.
Cyclingnews: Would you describe 2015 as your best ever season?
Michael Matthews: Definitely. I went into the season with a few goals and aiming to have a few peaks, and I was able to achieve those goals. Unfortunately they weren’t all wins but they were close: I was on the podium in every single one day Classic that I was aiming for. I’ve got to be happy with that, considering where I was last year -not being around the mark in any of the Classics. That makes my season a success. 2015 was my best ever season.
CN: You were third in the Milan-San Remo sprint and also third in the Amstel Gold Race. That seems to indicate the width of your talent. It’s difficult to say what kind of rider you are. Do you agree?
MM: I actually think that’s the beauty of the type of rider I am. I’m not just focused on flat sprints or on hilly stages. I can do a bit of everything and in races where it is going to be hard, that’s where I seem to excel. I find flat races and bunch sprints a little bit more difficult. Milan-San Remo and the Amstel Gold Race are very different, but I enjoy riding both of them.
CN: The Giro d’Italia was another notable moment for you and the Orica-GreenEdge team.
MM: The best thing about this year’s Giro d’Italia was doing it all back to back. We won the team time trial again, and we kept the pink jersey for three days after keeping it for five days last year. I also won a stage in the pink jersey in both years too. That’s huge for our team and made us one of the most successful teams in the race. It was something special.
CN: Professional cycling can flip from success to pain and suffering in a crash in an instant. That happened to you at the Tour de France but fought on in the race and reached Paris. Was there specific reason to do that?
MM: The Tour de France reminded me why you always need to enjoy the good moments in cycling because unfortunately the bad parts do come along every now and again. I was really unfortunate to get caught behind the big crash on stage three this year. I broke three ribs, and that put me out of contention in the sprints. But I had good support from the Orica-GreenEdge staff to help me make the start each day and it definitely wouldn’t have been possible to make it through to Paris without their support and from the support back home. It was really hard times but worth it. If I’d have gone home, it would have taken me a long time to get racing again. The miles and the racing I got in during the three weeks were the keys to my good end of the season.
CN: Did you perhaps learn more about yourself through the suffering?
MM: For sure. I learnt how high my pain barrier is, and now it’s really high. I can push myself to a whole new level now after what I went through at the Tour de France.
Setting the bar higher for 2016
CN: How will you set the bar higher for 2016? Do you have some new goals?
MM: This year it was about getting the experience, and so now I need to aim higher and go for the podium but to go there for the win. I think I’ve got the ability to be up there, I just need to have a bit of luck in some of the big races. So that I can hopefully win one or two of them.
CN: Is the 2016 world road race championships in Qatar an objective?
MM: It’s going to be an interesting Worlds for sure but I don’t know if it’s a goal. We know it’s going to be a flat race, but it’s actually difficult to say how it will go so far out. There will perhaps be a lot of crosswinds, and it might end in a bunch sprint. I might even have a year off from the worlds in 2016 and focus on 2017 in Norway. I’m going to enjoy my off-season first and then think about my 2016 season plans and goals with directeur sportif Matt White and the team.
CN: Do you feel you are becoming more of a leader in the Orica-GreenEdge team and especially in the big races?
MM: I think so. Everyone in the team gets opportunities, which is really nice. We have a wide range of winners, and I think you need to win consistently or be up there to deserve the leadership role. I think this year I can do well all year. Hopefully we can combine my goals with the teams goals in 2016.
CN: Your contract with Orica-GreenEdge ends in 2016, is that right?
MM: Yeah, it’s a contract year for me but I’m already in conversation with Orica-GreenEdge about the future. I think they’re happy with what I’m doing at the moment, how I’m excelling and getting better and better each year. There’s no reason for me to leave this team. I’ve had a few teams talk to me but as long as Orica-GreenEdge is happy with what I’m doing and keeps supporting me, there’s no reason for me to leave.