With last year’s third-place finisher Simon Gerrans not in full form, Michael Matthews will have the full backing of Orica-GreenEdge at this weekend’s Amstel Gold. Matthews has thus far backed up his impressive 2014 campaign with two victories this year along with his first Monument podium at Milan-San Remo – finishing third behind John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
The Australian is looking to add to that run with another trip to the podium on Sunday, and if he can make it the top step then that would be the cherry on the cake. “A podium would be really nice, that’s our goal for the day. Not sure what position yet but the podium is the goal,” Matthews told Cyclingnews. “It’s better to go into the race aiming for the podium and if you top that with the win then it makes it even better.”
Matthews has gone back to the drawing board this season when planning out his programme, beginning his year later than ever at Paris-Nice and only riding four races in the lead-up to the Ardennes. He also made changes to his winter, opting to stay in Europe for the whole winter to ensure that he was acclimatised to the conditions.
The changes have paid dividends so far and Matthews has been readily reeled out when the inevitable question of favourites for Amstel comes up. He proved at Milan-San Remo that he still has the legs to sprint after a tough race but with 34 climbs to contend, conserving energy will be key. “It’s quite challenging, it’s really demanding all day. It’s just basically trying to save whatever legs you have for the final time up the Cauberg, which is where the action goes down,” Matthews said.
As arguably the fastest man in the Amstel line-up, if he can hang onto his rivals than he’s a shoe-in for victory but that is easier said than done. “If they try to race against me that’s for them but there are a lot of guys that could do a really good race tomorrow so it’s not just me that everyone will be looking at. It’s going to be a bit of a gamble as to who follows who or who attacks when. The timing of the attack is going to be quite crucial I think.”
For only the second time in his career, Matthews will also be riding Flèche Wallonne next Wednesday. His previous appearance came in 2013 and he came home over eight minutes behind the race winner Daniel Moreno. Matthews won’t be targeting the victory at Flèche but, instead, riding in support of his teammate Michael Albasini. The main drive behind his decision to return to the race was his desire to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France in July.
“I’d really like to ride the race because it’s in the Tour de France and I’d like to do a bit of a recon while I’m racing and then in the final support Albasini,” Matthews said. “It’s a pretty key stage in the Tour de France this year and I think that the person who wins this stage could have the yellow jersey and that’s one of the reasons why I stuck around to race it.”
Grand Tour jerseys
Matthews is looking to notch up a few Grand Tour jerseys this season, as he also makes a return to the Giro d’Italia next month. He spent almost a week in the maglia rosa in 2014, taking a stage in the jersey on the crash-marred stage of Montecassino. In addition to his success, Orica-GreenEdge also came away with the team time trial victory and a stage win by the hand of Pieter Weening.
“It was an amazing experience last year, having the pink jersey for seven days, getting a pink bike from our sponsor Scott and having all this pink stuff, which is actually my favourite colour, and Italy is such a beautiful country, so to have all that in the one package was quite amazing,” Matthews said to Cyclingnews. “It’s going to be quite difficult to top the success that we had in the first week but we go there with all guns firing and we’ll be ready to try and achieve more than last year.”
There is an added element for Matthews this season with the San Remo grande partenza so close to his adopted European home. “It’s really exciting because it starts only 30 kilometres from where I live so it’s sort of like a home race for me now which is kind of cool,” Matthews said. “Going into it this year we have high hopes and high expectations. The emotions are fairly high and the Italian fans around that area are quite crazy so I’m really looking forward back.”