Team Sunweb went into Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Warren Barguil as its main man, but as the Frenchman found the going tough, Michael Matthews took up the mantle to finish in fourth place. The Australian hadn't ridden La Doyenne since his 2013 debut but it hardly showed as he animated the finale of the race, narrowly missing the podium.
Matthews, Barguil, Tom Dumoulin and Sam Oomen were regularly seen towards the front of the Movistar-led peloton in the closing 50km kilometres of the race with the quartet looking ready to launch. On the iconic Cote de la Redoute climb, Matthews came to the front of the reduced peloton as the race sparked into life. However, it was on the penultimate climb, Côte de Saint-Nicolas, where Sunweb gave Matthews the go-ahead for ride for a personal result as Barguil's legs got the better of him.
"The plan was to go for Warren today, but he said on the second to last climb that he wasn't feeling good. I tried to keep him motivated to try to get him up there to go for the win, I know that if sometimes you motivate your team mates you can give them the push that they need. On Saint-Nicolas he said over the radio that he really wasn't good so we decided to go for me," said Matthews of Barguil who was sixth last year.
As Dan Martin (QuickStep-Floors) then Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) made their vicious accelerations towards to the top of the Côte de la Rue Naniot, catching and passing Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac), Matthews explained he simply tried to hang on. With Valverde and Martin fighting it out for the win, Matthews used his speed to chase the final podium position but was just beaten to the line by Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).
"It was just about trying to survive and see what I could do in the finish. I gave everything that I could, it wasn't enough for the podium but for a super hard final I am really pleased to take 4th," added the 26-year-old who was tenth at Amstel Gold to kick off the Ardennes week.
For Sunweb's coach Aike Visbeek, the result ensured the team finished its classics campaign on a high, confirming its riders are in shape and condition for upcoming goals.
"It was a very good race for the team, everyone was focused in the final and we had Sam, Warren, Michael and Tom still up there," Visbeek said. "I'm proud of the guys today. They worked well together throughout the race and Michael showed that he is on a really good level at this point in the season."
Matthews' next race is the one-day Eschborn-Frankfurt 'Rund um den Finanzplatz race on May 5 as he continues his preparation for the Tour de France.