The Tour de France has not been a happy hunting ground for Michael Matthews but on Sunday’s first uphill finish he is hoping to start a new chapter in what has already been a highly successful career.
Matthews, of course, crashed on the eve of the 2014 Tour and never made it to the start line, while last year he battled to Paris but with just two top-10 finishes to his name.
This year, stage 2 from Saint Lo to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, with its kick skywards before the line is tailor-made for the 25-year-old, and like the majority of riders here at the Tour he has already ridden reconnaissance. On the basis that stage 1 is a flat track-run for the sprinters, stage 2 should see the race lead change hands, providing Matthews with the incentive that if he wins, he will most likely take the race lead too.
“We did the recon three days ago with half the team in the morning, and the other half did it in the afternoon, so we know the run-in,” he told the media at Orica-BikeExchange’s pre-Tour press conference.
“We know the last 100 kilometres is really quite technical, on small roads, and I think the crosswinds are going to make a big difference on the race. It’s meant to be 20-30km/h on the day and a bit of rain so it’ll be a sketchy race.”
Orica arrives at the Tour with a number of outlets and options. Adam Yates is expected to climb with the best in the mountains, while Mat Hayman, Ruben Plaza and Michael Albasini cover breaks. Matthews, like his teammate Simon Gerrans, will potentially divide up a number of similar stages between them. How stage 1 unfolds may determine the team’s tactics for stage 2.
“Definitely, [stage 2] suits a lot of our riders. A lot of our riders are a similar style, but I think one thing is getting through the race, and next thing is the final. It’s definitely going to be a sketchy race, and I think it’ll be a smaller bunch in the final that everyone is expecting; the wind is going to make a big impact.
“We haven’t decided yet on leadership, but we all need to get through stage 1 first with the bunch time and set ourselves up. Then go on to try and win that stage 2. But we have got to see how the first stage goes and then I guess we’ll talk in the morning of stage 2 and decide who’s going to go for it.”
One area in which Orica can be accused of lacking an option could be in the bunch sprints. Matthews, to some, could fill that void, but the Australian is a very different type of sprinter when compared to riders such as Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel.
“For now, no,” he said when asked if he would target the flat stage sprints.
“It’s not on the list of things to do. It’s definitely too sketchy especially the first stage. It’s really technical and on small roads, the sprint teams are going to try and make it hard for everyone else. We don’t really have a sprint train that can compete with these sorts of guys.”
Such a game plan would essentially rule Matthews out of competing for the green jersey, where consistency and presence in every sprint is more of a requirement than top-end speed.
“The first stage is a flat tailwind sprint, so it’s going to be a 75-80km/h sprint, and I don’t think I really have the size for that sort of sprint. There are some guys here that are almost double my body weight, and it’s just not my forte those sort of sprints.
“It’s hard to say because guys that are going for the green jersey have whole teams that can support that goal, but with our team we have a lot of guys that are going for stages. So it’ll be hard for me to go for that being one of three or four riders that are going for stage wins. You never know how it’s going to go in the Tour, but for now, it’s not at the top of the list.”
“The first week has shown there are so many crashes so our goal is to stay at the front, not lose time and maybe take the jersey at some point this week and the key way to do that is to stay out of trouble if you can get through and try to slide into the top-10 on a bunch sprint then great, but I think the key is to try and stay out of trouble.”
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