Matthews back in contention after injury-blighted spring

A morale-boosting fifth place for Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) in La Flèche Wallonne has confirmed to the Australian that after an injury-blighted spring, he is starting to get back on track.

And given he finished fourth last year in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it could well be in the nick of time.

"There was no pressure on me to deliver that sort of result [at Flèche] and I just wanted to see what I could do. It was quite a good race," Matthews told reporters at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège team presentation on Saturday.

"I still couldn't even breathe properly afterwards, I got a super sore throat, there was a lot of pollen in the air and my eyes were really itchy. But I was really happy with my race, the team gave me really good support and it was great to be able to see what I could do on that kind of climb."

Matthews fractured his left shoulder during his first race of the season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. And although he’s taken part in several Classics since then, finishing a stand-out seventh in Milan-San Remo, it’s fair to say he’s been playing catch up for most of the spring. Now, it seems, he's finally on a level playing field with the rest of the field.

"I’ve been working a lot with my osteo this week in Maastricht and he’s really got me back in some sort of shape where I can try and contest in a race," Matthews commented.

"We’ve been doing a lot of work on my shoulder and my back to get my strength back and I’m starting to feel a bit stronger, it's a good feeling."

Matthews' performance at La Flèche Wallonne shows that he is back on track. The Australian had a rather laconic take when asked to describe his approach the Mur de Huy: "I got to the bottom of the climb, time trialled to the 150- metres-to-go-sign and then saw what sort of sprint I had left." Considering how few riders were ahead of him at that point, that was something far easier said than done.

Expanding on his race analysis a little further, Matthews said he had done his homework before getting to the Flèche Wallonne start line, too, and that helped, albeit not as much as he’d have expected. “I studied the race a little bit over the last few years and I've normally seen that Valverde started his sprint with 150 metres to go, while Movistar took control of the bunch up until then. On Wednesday, it was a totally different scenario, with Lotto-Soudal really pulling from the bottom, and that really hurt me. But I did what I could and got fifth place."

Asked what he could achieve in the tougher hunting ground of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Matthews said: “I have no idea what I can do. [Julian] Alaphilippe, the way he’s going, he’ll be quite active, Alejandro [Valverde] likes a cruisy race and then a very hard sprint to the final, so I really have no idea.

“I’d like a fun race, where we can all go out there and enjoy ourselves. It’s beautiful weather and I’m happy to be back in the Classics and be in some sort of shape that I can try and contest."

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