Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) shied away from open criticism of his teammates during the first half of the Tour de France, but he did note that the team were making mistakes in the final kilometres of stages that he had marked in his road book. All that, however, now seems like a distant memory.
The Australian, who signed from Orica-Scott at the turn of the season, finished off an impeccable team performance on Tuesday's stage 16 to make it two victories from the last three stages, and three from four for the team after Warren Barguil's triump in Foix.
Barguil is sitting pretty in the polka-dot jersey, while Matthews has come roaring back into contention for the green jersey, which could come down to the Champs Elysées. What's more, both busted a gut for each other on the other's favoured terrain.
"What a team," Matthews said in his winner's press conference in Romans-sur-Isère, even breaking off from an answer about intermediate sprints to return to heaping praise on his comrades.
"It's just the belief in each other that we can win, and when you have that belief and trust in each other – that you'll give everything for you teammates – you come out with these results," he said.
Crosswinds were a constant threat on the road from Le Puy-en-Velay up and down into the Rhone valley, and Team Sunweb duly took things up and dropped green jersey incumbent Marcel Kittel on the early climb. They dictated the front of the race thereafter, controlling moves and making sure Kittel never came back into the equation.
Once in the valley, Matthews mopped up maximum points at the intermediate sprint before making the front group, along with Barguil and Nikias Arndt, as the race split in the final 15 kilometres. There was still plenty to do, as Barguil jumped to cover a dangerous late attack from Daniele Bennati (Movistar), and Nikias Arndt led Matthews onto the wheel of BMC's Greg Van Avermaet through a twisty finale.
"When Bennati attacked, Barguil went straight to the front. We didn't talk about that in the meeting, but the guys knew what to do – they're racers. It's amazing, I don't have to tell them what to do; they just react to the situation, and that's something special," said Matthews.
"Barguil going for the polka dots and sacrificing himself to bring Bennati back shows the sacrifices we make – like when I was in the break with De Gendt and I knew I had to take those cat 1 points off him for Warren."
Matthews took the plunge in leaving Orica and the comfortable surroundings of a predominantly Aussie set-up to join the Sunweb team, where he is one of only three native English speakers in a mostly German and Dutch crowd.
The 26-year-old explained that he felt the change of path was necessary in kicking on his career, while much was made of the internal tensions between himself and Simon Gerrans, whose similar characteristics gave Orica and the Australian national team something of a leadership headache.
"When you've got the team to support you, that actually makes you ride 10 times better, knowing I have the full group of guys around me that are just supporting me," said Matthews.
"The belief they have in me to deliver and get that result they're working so hard for, it makes it possible and it makes me believe in my head that I can actually do it, and that's half the battle. I know there are so many guys in this peloton who have similar abilities to me but when you have the belief in the team like I have around me, I think it makes you go up to that next level.
"From the start of the year we've been a really tight group of guys. We've said in this short period how much we've achieved already. Nikias Arndt said it gives him tingles. We've worked so hard to be at this level and to get these big results now something we deserve."
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