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Michael Matthews turns focus on first two stages of Tour de France

VALDEBLORE LA COLMIANE FRANCE MARCH 13 Arrival Michael Matthews of Australia and Team BikeExchange during the 79th Paris Nice 2021 Stage 7 a 119km stage from Le Broc to Valdeblore La Colmiane 1501m Stage itinerary redesigned due to COVID19 lockdown imposed in the city of Nice ParisNice on March 13 2021 in Valdeblore La Colmiane France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images
Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

There’ll be no easing into the Tour de France for Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) when he returns to the race after a year's absence, with the uphill finishes of the first two stages firmly marked as stages that suit the sprinter who excels when the terrain get tough enough to thin the bunch.

The Australian rider has picked out the stages on the opening weekend as among the five opportunities he'll have to fight for victory in a Tour where he'll take a wait and see attitude to the green jersey competition. However the 2017 points jersey winner, with three Tour de France stage victories already on his results tally, will have no shortage of competition. There is not just a stage win at stake in those opening days, but also the short and long term home of the yellow jersey. 

“The GC guys obviously don't want to lose time, so they'll also be fighting for it. It’s not just the punchy sprinters that will be up there," said Matthews in a pre-Tour media conference. "Definitely the yellow jersey is on the line for some different riders than it normally is with a sprint or a TT at the start of the Tour de France. I'm looking forward to giving it my best and seeing what we can achieve as a team in these first few days.”

The opening stage of the Tour de France on June 26 from Brest to Landerneau ends with a 3.1 kilometre climb at 5.6 per cent and then on stage 2 it is the Mûr-de-Bretagne Guerlédan, with the climb running for two kilometres at 6.9 per cent. 

“It is difficult to decide which one suits better,” Matthews said. “I'll give it 100 per cent on both of them and we'll see what we come out with, hopefully it’s a victory. But we just don’t know.”

Two of the riders that are likely to be trying to stand in the way of Matthews as he tries to secure his first win of the season are Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). Both have made it clear that they are well aware of the opportunity that the challenging finishes present. The question is can Matthews perform at the same level as Alaphilippe and van der Poel on that terrain?

“I hope so. I've been working towards being good at these sorts of stages,” said Matthews.“I think I just need to try my best and not focus on what they're doing but just focus on what I'm doing and try to get the best out of myself and use my team to try and support me as best they can going into that final of these first two stages.”

Both lined up against Matthews at the Tour de Suisse where Matthews best result was a fourth place on stage 3, while Alaphilippe came third in that same sprint and second in the time trial and van der Poel took first on both stages 2 and 3.

“Van der Poel's proved that he's in really good shape, in Suisse he was probably the most dominant rider there, so I think It's fair to say he's probably the man to beat,” said Matthews. “Also Alaphilippe showed he is in great shape too, so they're probably the two favourites for the first two stages. I’m sure they’ll show us what legs they have and they’ll make a good show. I'll do my best to try and be in front of them.”

If he does end up in front, it would given him a considerable advantage in the green jersey competition. 

“These first two stages are 50 points for the jersey so that creates a big gap to the pure sprinters if you're up there,” said Matthews. “I think it'll be a nice fight, quite open to a lot of riders this year but for me personally it’s just focussing on stages and see towards the end what happens.”

Opening up the battle for green further is the absence of last year’s winner Sam Bennett, with Mark Cavendish drafted in for Deceuninck-QuickStep in his absence. 

Matthews, for one, couldn’t be happier to be lining up at the Tour de France alongside Cavendish. 

“I had dinner with Cav at the airport in Paris on the way here and … he was full of energy, really happy and really excited to come back to the Tour de France,” said Matthews. “For a guy that has won 30 stages of the Tour already to be this excited about the Tour de France is something special. I think it's great for the sport. Whether he wins a stage or not, it's going to be awesome to have him back fighting for victories.”

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