When you're on the backfoot in a spring Classic, it's almost impossible to come back. For proof, just ask Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), who saw any realistic chances of success slip away after a fall on the Molenberg in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.
Despite a desperate chase, Matthews was only able to pull himself back to the first chase group, but by then the winning move had already pushed clear with Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) taking a solo win ahead of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal).
Matthews would come over the line in a larger group, taking 12th in his first race of the 2019 season. It wasn't the result that the Australian had been hoping for, but it was far from a disaster considering the position the Sunweb rider found himself in during one of the key moments of the race.
"It didn't really go to plan, unfortunately. I think we had a lot of key moments that we had targeted, but it wasn't really the team we expected to have on the start line. We tried to use the guys that we had, but it wasn't the team that we expected to have for the first Classic of the season," Matthews said after the race.
"We tried to come up with a bit of a different game plan, but it didn't really work out in the end. We gave it our best, but it wasn't really enough, and it was pretty much damage control from about 70km to go because we were out of position going into the Wolvenberg.
"Then we tried to move up for the Molenberg, and we were in an OK position, but somehow we got put into the trees and totally crashed on the left-hand side. That totally destroyed my race."
Casper Pedersen helped pace Matthews back to the peloton after the fall, but, despite a chase from Sunweb and several other teams who had missed the key move, the attack that included Stybar and Van Avermaet was too strong to pull back.
"It was good that Casper was there to try and get me as far back to the front as possible. We fell short by about 20 seconds in the end, but I was totally destroyed in the end after having to do 70km of time trialling back to the front."
Matthews came into the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with no racing in his legs having a block of time training at altitude. His foray through Belgium at least demonstrated that his form was sharp, and with Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo on the horizon, he will have ample opportunities to improve.
"The shape is good, but unfortunately I couldn't show it today. Hopefully they're good signs for the races to come," he concluded.
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