Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) has been tipped for Amstel Gold Race glory since he turned professional with Rabobank back in 2011, but the Dutch Classic remained stubbornly out of reach on Sunday, when he won the sprint for fourth, two seconds down on winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
After last year’s pandemic-enforced hiatus, Amstel Gold Race returned to the calendar in 2021 with a novel format that saw the peloton take in laps of a circuit over the Geulhemmerberg, Bemelerberg and Cauberg.
The circuit race lent something of a World Championships feel to the event, and Matthews took the bell as part of what looked like to be the key move of six riders. He was unable to follow when Van Aert went away with Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) on the Geulhemmerberg, however, and though his BikeExchange squad contributed to the chase, they were unable to bring back the three leaders.
“With three Ineos in the front group, it was hard to see which move was going to go, but then on the top of the second-to-last climb, the three of them got away,” Matthews said. “We all kept believing it would come back, a fair few teams missed it. It was up to us and a couple of other teams to try and bring it back, but we just fell short in the end.”
Matthews outsprinted Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) to fourth place, his best finish at Amstel Gold Race since he placed on the podium in 2015.
The race finished just past the summit of the Cauberg on that occasion, whereas the finale has since shifted to Berg en Terblijt, with the Bemelerberg serving as the final climb. That finale remained in place on Sunday, even if the preceding 200km had been very different to the traditional trek through the heart of the Limburg hills.
“It was probably not as difficult as I thought it was going to be,” Matthews told Limburg 1 afterwards. “The break was quite a big one and we sort of struggled to get them back, so I think the race opened up later than we all thought. We thought it would be aggressive but with such a big breakaway up the road, there was no point in opening it too early because you wouldn’t get across to them.”
After crashing at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, Matthews expressed satisfaction with his performance here.
“In the end we did a good job: we ended up fourth after crashing really badly on Wednesday, so it’s not a bad result,” said Matthews, who will continue to make Amstel Gold Race the centrepiece of his Spring in the years ahead.
“Yeah definitely. I come here with a big smile on my face every year,” he said. “It’s my dream to be on the top of the podium. Hopefully, I can continue to fight to try to get there. It will be even sweeter if I can get there eventually.”
Already sixth at Milan-San Remo and fifth at Gent-Wevelgem this season, Matthews will continue his Classics campaign at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He placed fifth on the Mur de Huy in 2018, while he took fourth place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège the previous year. Matthews, who returned to the GreenEdge set-up this season, will line out in the Ardennes alongside Robert Stannard and Esteban Chaves, who were both rode prominently in his support on Sunday.
“We came here to win,” said Directeur Sportif Matt White. “It is a very competitive time of year and Michael did everything he could to be in that final selection but found himself a little bit outnumbered with Ineos riders in the end. After that we tried to bring it back with Esteban Chaves but it just wasn’t to be and in the end we won the sprint from the best of the rest.”
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