After a promising sixth place finish on his debut two years ago, Michael Matthews returns to the Tour of Flanders at the head of a BikeExchange squad that helped to force the key split at last weekend’s Gent-Wevelgem.
Matthews had Jack Bauer, Luka Mezgec and Rob Stannard for company in the reduced group that formed with 180km still to race. The Australian proceeded to make the final selection over the Kemmelberg but, stricken with cramp, he could only manage fifth in a seven-man sprint won by Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
“I am feeling better and better after every race, I have had a couple of easy days now after Ghent-Wevelgem, so hopefully I can build back up again now towards Flanders. I did a nice recon on Thursday with the guys, so I am really looking forward to Sunday,” Matthews said in a statement from the team.
“I think every race that we do together we are going to get better and better. We started on Friday in E3 where we all showed we are in good shape, then Sunday we came out and I think we impressed a lot of people with what we did at Ghent-Wevelgem.”
Matthews was absent from Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, where Luke Durbridge was to the fore, eventually finishing 13th.
“Jack Bauer was exceptionally strong in Gent-Wevelgem, Durbo showed on Wednesday that he’s going really well, and Michael has been there and thereabouts in every race he’s done this year,” said directeur sportif Matt Hayman.
“Each of the riders have shown something in one of the Classics so far and it will be about getting behind Michael Matthews and delivering on Sunday.”
In the Ronde – one of his 'dream races' along with Amstel Gold Race – two years ago, Matthews came home as part of the large chasing group that finished behind the solo winner Alberto Bettiol. He missed last year’s rescheduled Belgian Classics in October as his Sunweb team opted to send him to the Giro d’Italia.
Matthews rejoined the GreenEdge set-up during the off-season, and he began his 2021 campaign at Paris-Nice, before placing 6th at Milan-San Remo. His finishing speed at Gent-Wevelgem was blunted by cramp, but he expressed hope after the race that he would continue to improve over the coming weekends, with the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège all on his schedule.
“I started to get double cramp in both of my legs,” Matthews said in Wevelgem on Sunday. “That’s unfortunate but it was a really hard day and I guess you have these problems but hopefully the next time I don’t.”
Matthews, Bauer, Durbridge, Stannard and Mezgec will be joined by Alex Edmondson and Amund Grøndahl Jansen in the Team BikeExchange line-up on Sunday.
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