Michael Matthews begins his Team Subweb career on Sunday at Paris-Nice and insists that his ambitions remain low, and his feet on the ground, until he can assess his race form. The Australian has not raced since the Abu Dhabi Tour last autumn but won two stages in last year’s 'Race to the Sun'.
This time around, Matthews is in different kit and with a new set-up around him after moving from Orica-Scott to Sunweb over the winter. Matthews and Sunweb have high hopes this season, with Milan-San Remo and a possible tilt at the Green Jersey at the Tour de France on the agenda.
Before both of those races, however, Matthews has the small matter of making his debut in Sunweb colours.
"It’s hard to say exactly how I’m going because I’ve not been racing for three months, so you’re never really sure," he told Cyclingnews after his final training session before Sunday’s opening stage.
"I’m excited and I’ve worked harder over the winter than I have done before. Hopefully it all pays off."
Since moving teams, Matthews has trained at several camps camps, spent time in the wind tunnel in order to improve his position, and racked up the miles at altitude. Sunday’s stage in Bois-d’Arcy will mark the first time he’s turned a pedal in anger for his 2017 squad, and the first time he has faced his former teammates in a race.
"It’s a new adventure and it feels pretty special," he said. "I’ve been working a lot with the team in the build up to the race, and the guys are super motivated to work with me. Hopefully we’ll be able to create some good memories.
"It’s hard to say how it will feel because I’ve not done it yet. Even their [ed. - Orica-Scott’s] jersey has changed, so it’s not one that is too familiar anymore. If it was the same as the one from the last few years it might be a little bit harder, but now it’s just another team in the peloton that we have to beat. That’s going to be hard, but the way Sunweb have supported me, and the training camps we’ve gone through, I think we’ve a really strong team."
Last year Matthews blew the opposition away on the opening stage of the race, wining the prologue ahead of Tom Dumoulin. This time around the race kicks off with a stage for the sprinters, and the uphill finish should suit the Australian.
“There’s a little uphill finish, but I’ve not had a chance to recon it yet," he said. "I don’t think it’s super steep but it’s uphill. It’s going to be interesting with me coming straight off altitude, but I’ll have to see how my feelings are. You don’t want to set your goals too high in your first race because if you don’t achieve them it’s going to be a long season and you’re going to be chasing your tail.
"Once we get past the first stage we’ll be able to see how I’ve come back from altitude. Then I’ll be able to say what I want to achieve. It’s also a really good field this year in terms of the sprints."
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