During a thirty-minute press conference Michael Matthews (Australia) could be seen staring into the distance, no doubt playing the sprint over again and again in his mind as he battled to understand what went wrong at the UCI Road World Championships.
The Australian finished third behind Peter Sagan (Slovakia) and Alexander Kristoff (Norway) after admitting to making several mistakes at key points in the race. As he sat there, listening in as a flurry of questions were softly tossed in Sagan's direction, Matthews was no doubt wondering just how and if he can end Sagan's run at the Worlds.
"I'm happy to be on the podium but it was the wrong step," Matthews had told Cyclingnews as he made his way through the post-race mixed zone.
A bronze was clearly of little consolation for the Tour de France's green jersey winner. Rather than blame others, Matthews pointed to mistakes he'd made on the final climb on Salmon Hill, where instead of sitting on the wheels he tried to match and follow several moves. While Sagan and Kristoff gambled on the sprint, Matthews thought he could play his hand earlier.
"I jumped a lot with guys attacking but they were never really going anywhere. The bunch was still too big and I wasted energy from doing that. Sagan was still sitting back in the bunch and gambling on it coming back together. Maybe that's what I should have done too. There's nothing I can do now, I guess."
That said, Matthews was still in contention for the rainbow jersey when the attacks were neutralized and a group of 26 hurtled towards the line. Chaotic would be one way to describe the finale as the remaining sprinters volleyed off each other as they looked for the best lines through the final corners.
"It was a pretty hectic and there were a lot of attacks going inside the final five kilometres. I just tried to play it cool and save my legs for the sprint. I was in a good position with around 500m to go but I got a little bit swamped by Sagan and one of the Czech riders. I tried to fight my way back between the last two corners but I wasted that energy when I needed it for the sprint."
It was Kristoff who hit the front first, later telling Cyclingnews that he thought he'd won with 150m to go. When Sagan came around the home favourite, it was Matthews who needed to respond but the Australian found himself out of ammo.
"It's just frustration. It's hard to say now if I was going to be strong enough to finish it off or not but it would have been nice just to try. I had to use a lot of energy just to get back and then they launched the sprint just as I got back," Matthews said.
When asked if Sagan had now become a nemesis for him in World Championships the Sunweb rider correctly pointed to the fact that plenty of others had come up short against the three-time winner.
"I think he is for everyone, not just for me. He plans his form each time and to be honest I didn't see him all day. I thought we rode a really good race today, we didn't focus on anyone else and we did our own thing. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough," Matthews said.
Matthews came into the Worlds believing that he had a real shot at winning. He has had an exceptional 2017 campaign and had the full force of a diligent and strong Australian team around him in Bergen. Whether it was the moves on Salmon Hill or the messy sprint that did for Matthews – or a combination of both – we'll never quite know, but in Sagan he has come up against a brick wall of an opponent.
What's needed to defeat him isn't yet, but Matthews, despite his clear disappointment, isn't willing to give up just yet.
"I'm not exactly sure what's missing. We need to reassess where I can get that little extra bit out for the final. I'm going to enjoy my off-season and then we'll plan how to get the stripey jersey next season."
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