The 26-year-old is bidding to become just the third Australian to win the Italian Classic, and after finishing on the podium two years ago, has the credentials to rival the favourites, Peter Sagan and Fernando Gaviria.
At this point last year Matthews was heading to Milan-San Remo with two wins under his belt through stage wins at Paris-Nice. This year the path to Milan has been slightly different. The Australian is in Sunweb black and white, rather than Orica blue after a winter switch, and there were no stage wins at Paris-Nice this time around.
The race was far from an unsuccessful venture, however, with four top-10 placings and two impressive rides in the uphill time trial and then the final mountain stage into Nice.
Matthews, who made his season debut at the 'Race to the Sun', would have been forgiven for throwing in the towel after the opening two stages in northern France. While most of his rivals opened their campaigns at the Tour Down Under or under the blazing sun of a Middle Eastern stage race, Matthews had to contend with freezing rain and high winds at Paris-Nice.
"Paris-Nice has been up and down, obviously, and the first two days were not as I expected. Without racing, having the off-season, and then going in and having those two stages as your first race days, it was hard," he told Cyclingnews.
"In the last two years when I've won in Paris-Nice the first two stages were pretty cruisey and I could settle in and really get into my rhythm of racing. This year I wasn't able to do that and the guys wanted to race from the gun. That hurt me."
Despite the conditions, Matthews rallied and finished a highly credible seventh on the Mont Brouilly time trial. It was an indication that the form was there, even if the top end speed still needed a few tweaks.
"I was happy with the time trial day. My preparation didn't go as perfectly as it could have. I missed half my warm up and almost missed the start, but somehow I had really good legs and was able to produce a result without doing too much time trial training.
"I've come out really good from the week and had a few nice results to start my year. I didn't get the win to start my season but I'm not tired, so that's good."
Matthews was speaking on the startline of the final stage in Nice. Later that day he drew praise from Alberto Contador, who worked with the Sunweb rider on the false flat before the final climbs. That effort was another indication that Matthews has the necessary climbing legs to compete in Milan-San Remo on Saturday.
"With that race it's all about saving a bit of energy for the final. I just hope to keep my nice climbing legs and then work on my sprint a little bit. It should be okay," he said.
"Last year I crashed, and the year before that I froze on the second last climb but got third. I'll try and better that result this year."
Matthews will be supported by a strong Sunweb contingent, including Tom Dumoulin, Nikias Arndt and Simon Geschke. The Australian will be hoping to drop as many of the pure sprinters as possible over the Poggio and Cipressa, before the final dash to the line.
"There's a big group of contenders and the climb, unfortunately, isn't hard enough to drop a few of those guys. We've just got to try and play our cards right with what we've got on the day, using what we have. We need to race our own race, and not anyone else's."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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