Five months after his four-year spell with Team Sunweb came to a premature end with a false positive test for COVID-19 in the middle of the Giro d’Italia, Michael Matthews described himself as “super happy” to be making his first appearance for Team BikeExchange at Paris-Nice.
The eight-day race is his first since rejoining the Australian team, where he spent four successful seasons earlier in his career.
“It’s good to be starting my season. It’s been a long build-up, from having a false positive in the Giro last year to being here now as the start line of Paris-Nice, back with GreenEdge and with BikeExchange. I’m super happy,” Matthews told Cyclingnews prior to the opening stage in Saint-Cyr-L’École.
“To be honest it feels like I’m coming back home. All of the guys are pretty much the same. We’ve got a couple of new guys, but still a lot of Aussies, and the staff is still the same and, in a way, it feels like I haven’t been away.”
The 30-year-old Australian said his pre-season preparation had gone well.
“I just need to put it into practice now. Hopefully we can bond as a team really well straight away. But you know how it is when you join a new team, you need time to learn about each other on and off the bike, and hopefully we’ll get a lot of opportunities to do that this week,” he said.
Winner of three stages in previous editions of the Race to the Sun, Matthews added that he is aiming to improve that tally.
“There’s a couple of stages this week that suit me quite well. I think today [stage 1] is going to be OK, tomorrow there’s another chance for a sprint and the TT could also be interesting. There’s a little bit of a climb in there and it’s 14k, so that looks a good one for me too. It’s going to be a busy week that’s for sure,” Matthews explained.
He subsequently finished 17th on the first stage, but the bonus seconds he picked up at the intermediate sprints put him third on GC, five seconds down on race leader Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Matthews also voiced his optimism about the ongoing health issues that are affecting the sport.
“I think things are going in the right direction. At our hotel, for instance, we have breakfast in our room. Although we’re allowed into the restaurant for our dinner, everything else at the hotel is cordoned off. It feels very safe here at the start, and I think that everything possible is being done to make sure everyone is safe," he said.
“All this means that we can continue racing and, hopefully, people appreciate all of the work that’s going on behind the scenes to make it happen. Now we just have to put on a great show.”
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