Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) says that he has no intention of defending his Tour de France points title at this year's race, though he will chase stage victories. Rather than seek a second successive green jersey, the Australian will be looking to help his teammate Tom Dumoulin go for the general classification. The Dutchman arrives at the Tour having already placed second overall at this year's Giro d'Italia.
"There is no ambition for the green jersey at all. From the first stage, I'm not going for the intermediates," Matthews told Cyclingnews after the team met the press in Brittany on Wednesday morning. "We don't really have a proper lead-out, there's just Nikias Arndt and Soren Kragh Andersen here to look after me, and the rest of the guys are going to be looking after Tom.
"For me, I think that I need a full lead-out to go for a green jersey like that. With our GC goal, that's our main priority. We'll be trying to go for stages that have a bit of an uphill sprint, there are a few stages that we've targeted for me where I have a bit of a free role to go for it. Hopefully, I can try to tick those boxes."
For much of last year’s Tour, Matthews was going toe-to-toe with Marcel Kittel in the fight for the green jersey. Kittel took five stages but Matthews chipped away at his advantage through the more mountainous stages and there were just 29 points separating the two – with Kittel in the lead – when Kittel was forced to abandon on stage 17. His departure cleared the way for Matthews to take a comfortable win, beating the next best rider Andre Greipel by 136 points. The battle with Kittel was something that Matthews took great joy out of and he hasn't counted out going for the green jersey again.
"Hopefully in the future we can do it again and have another nice battle because I really enjoyed going for it on every single stage, going for the intermediates, going for it in the flat sprints. It was like going for a GC in Grand Tour for me. I really enjoyed it, it was really fun," Matthews said.
"There was so much preparation going into that green jersey, we knew where to take points and where we would lose points to the pure sprinters. We knew exactly what we needed to do. I think everyone was 100 per cent committed to that goal and getting that green jersey at the end of it.
"We turned a new page going into the second week, and it really made a difference when we started winning and started having fun. We were feeling a lot of pressure before that and we weren't really enjoying ourselves in the race and once we started to enjoy ourselves that was when the results started coming. I think that's what you need to keep in mind. It's the biggest bike race in the world, it's a circus, but in the end, we ride bikes for a living. You need to remember that sometimes and enjoy it and have fun, and that's when you'll do your best."
Matthews told Cyclingnews that his numbers are even better than they were this time last year. In the final week running up to his departure for France, Matthews has undertaken a few last motor-pacing sessions with his coach in Monaco to hone his form. It hasn’t been smooth sailing up until this point after he broke his shoulder during his first race of the year, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It will require constant care and attention during the race, but Matthews is determined to put it to the back of his mind.
"It's been a rocky start with breaking my shoulder at the start of the year. I'm still struggling with it now," he told Cyclingnews. "It wasn't just the bone, it was also ligaments on the muscle that were also torn. I'm still trying to do rehab on that now. It wasn't the start of the year that I hoped. I'm still focused, still trying to do everything to get the best out of training. I'm hopefully here in my best shape. Of course, my shoulder not being perfect is always difficult to sprint but I think we just have to keep trying and see what we can do.
"If I do multiple sprints, like I was doing last week, then it really starts to hurt and I need to ice it up after training. It's never nice going into the Tour de France with something like that. It's always in the back of your mind, which is not nice. Going into the Tour de France you have to have everything 100 per cent perfect and at the moment it isn't quite there, and hopefully, we can get the best out of it."
Cyclingnews has compiled a list of eight sprinters to watch at this year's Tour de France in the video below.
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