The Team Sunweb rider captured his second victory in a drawn-out sprint against Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida) that finally went the former U23 world champion’s way.
Matthews' victory comes less than three weeks after his bad crash in Paris-Nice saw him leave with two fractures in his orbital eye bone, a cut lip and a chipped tooth. Elsewhere it was reported he had suffered concussion.
Although he returned to racing at Milan-San Remo and took a notable 12th, the combined effects of injuries, 300 kilometres of racing a major Monument Classic in Italy and a subsequent long transfer over from Nice to Catalunya, left the Australian feeling exhausted at the start of the Volta.
“To put it in a few words, I came here expecting to get my arse kicked,” Matthews said, “But it’s turned out far better than I expected. I got some brilliant team support here and I’m just happy I could pay it off for them in the final for them after all the hard work they done.”
He dedicated the win to teammate Wilco Kelderman, who crashed badly in the line of duty during the run-in on Friday in Sunweb’s vain bid to bring back lone breakaway Max Schachmann (Bora-hansgrohe). Kelderman had to abandon the Volta with a broken collarbone and fractured vertebrae, and his Giro d’Italia is now in question.
Matthews doesn’t rule out taking a third stage win on Sunday in Barcelona, and on similarly technical, hilly, urban circuits, Matthews has certainly shone in the past. The GPs Montreal and Quebec, where Matthews took a rare double last year and which were his previous wins before Catalunya, are the most recent examples, but there are plenty of others in his palmares.
“I haven’t ridden around the course yet, but I’ve watched it on TV in the past, and I think when I’m in really good shape it’s a really good course for me,” Matthews said. “Hopefully I do have the legs for tomorrow’s stage, and for sure I’ll be out there trying.”
As for Saturday’s win, he wasn’t expecting to have a chance to win.
“Watching Catalunya, it always seems very hard, and I didn’t think I had the form to get to the finish and have a good sprint still. My sprint power isn’t perfect yet. And I definitely didn’t expect two victories.
“We had had a plan to try and practice a leadout but unfortunately Movistar decided to drill it in the crosswind along the water [coastline] there and that put all my team out of contention to help me. But we kept it together in the finale and I was well-protected there, I was always top five in those two kilometres.”
As for the ultra-tight dash for the line itself against Bauhaus, the cliche has it that sprinters always know when they have won, and Matthews said he had felt “fairly certain” he had taken the victory.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent sure. I knew he was very close because I opened up the sprint first and he was on my left-hand side, coming up really fast. I know him from last year when he was a team-mate and we’ve done a lot of drag race sprints and in a one-on-one he’s probably quicker than me.
“But I was expecting him to come from somewhere and I was just able to edge him out for the victory.”