Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) said that it is getting crazier every year in the peloton, with a lack of respect meaning that being taken out, elbowed and head butts were just something that you had to deal with.
The fact that not everyone is always playing nicely in the peloton has been on display in a number of races, most recently at the Tour of Flanders, with Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana-Premier Tech) and Otto Vergaerde (Alpecin-Fenix) both disqualified after shoulder charges and physical aggression soon after the start.
“In terms of the peloton, respect between the riders has definitely gone,” Matthews told Matt Stephens on the Unplugged podcast. “When I first turned professional it was really like there were guys in the peloton you looked up to and if they said something, that’s what you did even if you were in a different team.”
The 30-year-old rider has been a professional cyclist for more than a decade, returning to Team BikeExchange after a four-year absence with one of the big objectives to push for success at the Classics, which there were few of on his schedule last year. The Australian rider said those early days when certain riders held sway within the peloton had well and truly gone and he noticed it more than ever this year.
“Even for me coming back into the Classics again, every year it is just getting more and more crazy. Cycling now has just turned into more like a boxing match than a bike race,” said Matthews.
Referring to an article he saw about Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) sitting out the Tour of Flanders, with mental fatigue a factor as well as physical, he reflected on how different the changed attitudes would make the racing experience for a rider like Gilbert, who used to be afforded a level of respect within the bunch.
“It is quite difficult to go out and race your bike now in these Classics when there is just zero respect in the peloton for each other and, it doesn’t matter who you are, someone is going to bomb underneath you in a corner or take you out, or headbutt you, or elbow you or anything,” said Matthews. ”Either you can deal with that and race, and do it back, or maybe you can’t so I think maybe this year with the corona [COVID-19], it seems to be more crazy than other years, that’s for sure.“
One of the final chances for Matthews at the Classics was the Tour of Flanders – with Paris-Roubaix postponed until October due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in northern France – and that didn’t run to plan with the rider and teammates caught up in crashes and left out of position when the crucial attacks came. He ended up with 21st place. The best result at the one day races this season has been fifth at Gent-Wevelgem and he also secured third in a stage of the Paris-Nice.
Matthews also pointed to another part of the sport that had changed considerably since he started as a professional, and that's the young age of so many of the riders out there winning races and carrying the hopes of their team. Both last year's Tour de France winner, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team-Emirates), and Giro d'Italia winner, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), also won the youth classification.
"When I came through the guys that were the big superstars were mid 30’s. They were the guys that won bike races and now its these young guys and it is putting so much pressure on them at such a young age. It is going to be quite difficult for them to have a long career," said Matthews, who added that hopefully they would find a way.
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