Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) will finally make his Tour of Flanders debut in 2019, setting the Belgian Monument as the focal point of a spring campaign that will feature an almost-complete set of cobbled Classics.
Matthews finished second at the under-23 Tour of Flanders in 2010 but, curiously, has yet to tackle the pro race. Despite an appearance at Gent-Wevelgem as a neo-pro in 2011, his springs have largely revolved around Milan-San Remo and then the hillier Ardennes Classics, rather than the cobbles and bergs of northern Belgium.
However, 2017 saw a shift in direction, as the Australian rode Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem to test the waters, before lining up a fuller schedule of cobbles, including Flanders, for 2018. That was ultimately derailed by a shoulder injury suffered in a crash at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in late February, but Matthews will have his shot in 2019.
"I'm really interested in Flanders this year. I haven't done the pro one before. I was 2nd in the U23s, so I've got good memories. I know the pro event is totally different, but I'm really excited about it," Matthews told Cyclingnews in Calpe, Spain, where he's currently on a training camp with Sunweb.
"I've had a look at the course, which is a big step forward to know what I'm in for, but I'm actually just super excited to race it. I've been trying to race it for the last few years, but have never been able to with preparation for the Ardennes and the Tour of the Basque Country."
Matthews will still ride all three Ardennes classics – Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – in 2019, having finished third at Amstel in 2015 and fourth at Liège in 2017. However, the cobbled races have been identified as the races where he has the biggest chance of success.
"The Ardennes were always the priority, but we've looked into my abilities and the team actually reckons I should be better at the cobbled Classics," Matthews said.
"I really enjoy the Ardennes, but the team think I'm better suited to the cobbles. I just trust them in what they say. They've been amazing to me in the last two years, so I have massive trust in what they say."
Matthews will stop short of riding Paris-Roubaix for the first time, but will begin at the 'opening weekend' of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, before riding Milan-San Remo and then returning to Belgium for the E3-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and, finally, the Tour of Flanders on April 7.