Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) once again showed that he has what it takes to shine at the classics. Last week he sprinted along for the victory in Milano-San Remo and this time around he did the same in Gent-Wevelgem.
However, for a rider who’s known to be a class sprinter, coming away from both races with a sixth and fifth place is somewhat disappointing. In Gent-Wevelgem, cramps held the Australian back as Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) sprinted to victory.
“I started to get double cramp in both of my legs. 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 said after the finish in Wevelgem.
While Matthews struggled with cramps, Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was struggling much more. The Irish rider managed to stay with the lead group after the final ascent of the Kemmelberg but then started vomiting. A first acceleration in the group was enough to make him drop back.
“He started missing some turns but I thought it was because he had some teammates coming across. He did look pretty tired but it was good that he was there in the first place,” Matthews said.
Suffering from cramps after spending 180 kilometres in the attack can happen. The seven riders that sprinted for the victory in Wevelgem all featured in the first echelon that distanced the rest of the field during the windy passage through the fields near the North Sea.
Team BikeExchange featured no less than four riders from their seven-man line-up in that move with Matthews joined by Jack Bauer, Luka Mezgec and Robert Stannard.
“I think there was 20 of us off the front, it was a very long day, very hectic," Matthews said. "My team did a great job today, they split it up and made sure we were all in the front. From there we tried to control the race for a sprint.”
After the tough hilly section of the race, the nine riders who survived the cut weren’t quite the riders Matthews hoped to sprint against.
“It was not really what we wanted exactly. We wouldn’t have minded some less fast guys there in the finish but we did our best and that’s what we came out with. The course was too fast in the final to really attack so I think everyone just gambled on the sprint,” he said.
In that sprint, Matthews positioned himself on the wheel of Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) with Van Aert marking his wheel in the middle of the group. Küng launched his sprint from 300 metres out, with Matthews passing the Swiss champion with ease.
However, in no time Van Aert blasted by him and eventually the three other sprinters – Giacomo Nizzolo, Matteo Trentin, and Sonny Colbrelli – passed him, too. Matthews was able to live with the outcome and looked forward to the next goals, pursuing his first win of the season but mostly a big win at the classics.
That pursuit will take him to Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday ahead of the Tour of Flanders next Sunday. After that, Matthews heads to the hills with Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race – a favoured race for the 30-year-old – and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“My form is coming up. I think every race day I’m getting better and better so hopefully I can continue this and be good next weekend.”
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