Stage 2 of this year’s Giro d’Italia had a distinct aura of deja vu around it as Michael Matthews repeated his 2014 performance and rode strongly enough in the race’s opening bunch sprint to take over in the leader’s pink jersey for Orica-GreenEdge.
Just like in 2014 when Matthews laid claim the pink jersey on a wet Saturday afternoon in Belfast’s Chichester Street on the Giro’s stage 2, he followed up a team time trial victory by his Orica-GreenEdge squad taking over the maglia rosa from a teammate.
Then as now, the Australians’ game plan was to use their fastest man for the sprints - Matthews - as their plan ‘A’ to take over in the jersey on stage 2, and the plan went to perfection. The only difference, apart from the location, was that Matthews took seventh in the bunch sprint, whereas in Belfast he was eighth.
When Matthews walked through the media centre for the Giro leader’s press conference, the 24-year-old Australian almost needed no introduction.
Outlining how he had got through what was a crash-ridden first day of mass start racing in the Giro, Matthews agreed that “It was quite a difficult stage. But in the front you were quite safe, it was the middle that was quite sketchy.”
“I was lucky to have some big guys to keep me out of trouble, I was a little far back on that last corner, but we kept the pink jersey within the team and that was our main goal today.”
“The aim was to keep me out of trouble, and now it’s to stay in pink for as long as possible and go for stage wins.”
For Matthews the Giro d’Italia lead continues what has been a real step up across the board in the first half of the season. Third in Milan-Sanremo, second in Brabantse Pijl, third in Amstel Gold after managing to hold Philippe Gilbert’s wheel when the BMC rider attacked on the Cauberg, Matthews’ Classics career seems to be steadily on the up and up, too. “I’ll be taking those experiences with me when I go for those races next year,” Matthews warned on Sunday.
In 2015, too, Matthews has become familiar with giving race leaders’ press conferences. This season the 24-year-old has held the top spot in every stage race in which he has taken part, starting with Paris-Nice, going on with the Vuelta al País Vasco - with stage wins in both - and now in the Giro d’Italia.
Leader for six days in the 2014 Giro d’Italia, as well as a stage win on the rain-soaked summit finish of Monte Cassino, all Matthews needs to repeat history is a stage victory. Matthews looked ahead for his opportunities: “Tomorrow [stage three, a hilly run from Rapallo to Sestri Levante] is a better stage for me to try and win, wearing the pink jersey. Actually, the first two weeks in general suit us as a team a lot.”
Matthews has already had several pivotal moments for his career in Italy, such as his two years with the Australian National Team in Varese as an Under 23 rider: “That was when I decided if I was to go on with cycling or go back home and find something else,” he said. After leading the Giro for a second time, Matthews is set for a key moment of his private life in the same country, too. He revealed on Sunday that he will be getting married here this summer, right after the Tour de France.