Paris-Nice points classification win a confidence boost for Matthews
French race a success for Orica-GreenEdge
Michael Matthews' prologue victory at Paris-Nice surprised a few people, as did his pronouncements that he was entertaining thoughts of overall victory, but the Orica-GreenEdge rider finished the 'race to the sun' with a confidence boosting haul of two stage wins, six days in the yellow jersey and a second straight win in the points classification.
The 25-year-old lost his lead on the challenging stage 6 finale that featured the 15km La Madone d'Utelle climb, slipping from first to 49th overall, but explained the experience of leading a WorldTour race was one he relished on his 2016 season debut.
"This was my first race of the season and I didn't expect to win the individual time trial on stage one," Mathews said. "Then hold the jersey for so long afterwards was great. The team was really strong all week and I learnt a lot with how to deal with the responsibilities of leading a stage race.
In 2015, Matthews wore the leader's jersey at Paris-Nice, Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, Giro d'Italia and Tour of Alberta but having an extended stay in the yellow gave him insight into what the GC men experience on a regular basis.
"It was the first time that I have fought really hard on every stage of a race and I realise that it is important to try and conserve as much energy as possible. There are more demands placed on you when you are in the leader’s jersey not just during the race but also after the finish," added Matthews who won stage 4 in the leader's jersey.
Sports director Laurenzo Lapage described the race as a success with the team meet its goals and also enjoying a strong GC result with Simon Yates finishing seventh, 12-months on from his 29th place overall.
"It has been a fantastic week for us, we came into the race with the idea of the green jersey for Matthews and to try and get Simon up here for the overall," Lapage said. "It's great how everything went almost impossible to do better. Simon was a little bit sick in the beginning but he got stronger everyday and the last two days he was really impressive.
"Everyone did very well by working together throughout the race, it is unusual to control things the way we did. We can take real confidence from our performance here."
Matthews' next objective is Sunday's Milan-Sanremo with the Australian aiming for victory having finished third at the 2015 edition of the race.
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By Josh Croxton