Fresh from three weeks of altitude training in Livigno, Michael Matthews only arrived at the Tour de Suisse on the eve of the WorldTour stage race. Fourth place in the prologue hinted at a successful camp for the Team Sunweb rider, confirmed with stage 3 victory over world champion Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo).
Not only was the win important for Matthews in the context of the race, it also moves him into the leader's yellow jersey, it was a significant psychological victory. Matthews will be up against Sagan and Degenkolb at the Tour de France in the battle for stage wins and the green jersey assured his form can best the duo.
After a crash on the eve of the 2014 Tour de France ruled Matthews out of the race, a high-speed crash in 2015 saw the 26-year-old break several ribs and suffer through to Paris where he was top-ten on the Champs-Élysées. It was third time lucky in 2016 for Matthews in when he won stage 10 from a select breakaway to add to his Vuelta a Espana and Giro d'Italia wins. Readying for his first Tour with Team Sunweb, Matthews told Cyclingnews that "everything is going well towards to the Tour" and is he ready to create more lasting memories at the French Grand Tour.
"I feel better than last year. Each year we have made progression in my training and my nutrition and everything around cycling," Matthews told Cyclingnews of his current form and condition. "I think those little things are making me that little bit better each year and this year we have had a lot of good weather in Livigno. Last year we had three weeks of rain. My teammate Nikias Arndt and I had really good training, so we did everything we wanted to get done in those three weeks. Last year I was by myself in living, and it rained for three weeks straight, so it wasn't the ideal preparation. This year everything has gone a lot smoother, and it was easier to get the stuff done we needed to do."
A stage winner at the 2015 Tour de Suisse, Matthews' best result last year was third on stage 2 in Baar and ended his race early with a DNS on stage nine. Compared to his last few seasons, Matthews has arrived at the important Tour tune-up with at least multiple wins under his belt. In 2017, Matthews had enjoyed just the solitary victory on stage 1 of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco but is hoping his Berne success will open the floodgates with his new team.
"I just think everything needs to come together. We have a really strong team, I have really strong form and I think maybe changing teams made it a little hard at the start to get everything going. Now I have had almost half the year under the belt, I have made really good relationships with all the guys in the team and I'm fitting in really well," Matthews said of his start to the year. "Once I get that one big one, hopefully, it just keeps on rolling."
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With the aim of winning a stage at the race complete, Matthews and Sunweb will be focused on fine tuning its squad for the Tour as he explained.
"For us, in Suisse, it is really about preparation for the Tour, we have a lot of guys here who are going to ride the Tour, and we want to gel together as a team," he said.
Readying for the Tour
Taking his first professional win at the Tour de Langkawi in 2010, it wasn't until the 2014 Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco that Matthews won his first WorldTour race. It was his 13th win as a professional. Since then, 11 of Matthews' 14 victories have come in the WorldTour with the Australian displaying an innate ability to hit his targets at the top level. His ambition to land a Milan-San Remo though though for example has been cruelled by crashes.
Matthews' Grand Tour record also backs up his reputation as a 'big time' winner with stage wins from five of the six three-weeks races he's started. The 2015 Tour is the currently the only blemish. With the memories still fresh from last July's win, Matthews is confident he can add to his tally of eight Grand Tour stages.
"I know what it feels like to personally win a stage at the Tour now, so it is different to other years when I've had really bad luck with crashes and everything," he said. "I think looking back, the memories of the Tour are nicer now after winning the stage last year, that makes it more exciting to go back and try and do bigger and better things.
"That memory is pretty special, and hopefully we can make more of those memories this year. It is a special race for sure. Everything has to go to plan and go 100 percent your way to get that feeling again. That is what we are aiming for, and that is the goal."
Well aware of the Tour's pressure cooker environment and demand on riders, Matthews explained that h believes his mental fortitude has never been stronger. And combined with his insatiable hunger for victory, he is eagerly anticipating the Tour.
"I think it is as important as training having a strong head so when it comes down to that pressure point you need to be able to deliver at that moment, I can learn a lot from that too and make the right decision at the right moment under high stress. That's what makes the difference in the end between first and second.
"I love racing and riding my bike, and I love winning."