Matthews will spearhead a strong-looking team in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with the Australian joined by Esteban Chaves and Lucas Hamilton. Although the team are not among the very top favourites for the last Classics of this Spring’s campaign all three of their leaders have been incredibly consistent this year.
Hamilton finished fourth in Paris-Nice and 10th in the Volta a Catalunya, while Chaves has been ever-present in both stage races and one-day events this year. He was eighth in La Flèche Wallonne earlier this week, while Matthews took fourth in Amstel Gold Race last weekend. The Australian also finished in the top 10 in both Gent-Wevelgem and Milan-San Remo.
“We’re in a good place going into Liège. Before when we’ve done this race we’ve probably not had enough climbers when it came to splitting our resources between the Ardennes and the Tour of the Alps but we’ve got a good group that has been focused on the Classics and then we’ve got our Giro group that have performed well. We’ll bring a couple of riders from the Tour of the Alps to Liège and things are looking good,” White told Cyclingnews.
“Flèche isn’t a race that suits Michael at all. It’s a race where he’s done well in the past but what it does do is allow him to put the icing on the cake for his preparation ahead of the weekend. Amstel does suit him as we see every year and in Liège he’s run fourth on the old finish but missed last year because he was at the Giro. He and several others like him, need the race to go a certain way, and then we’ve got a couple of climbers with Esteban Chaves showing us that he’s been in form every time he’s pinned a number on this year. We have Lucas Hamilton, too.”
The outstanding favourites for Sunday are Primoz Roglic, Julian Alaphilippe, and Tadej Pogacar. The BikeExchange riders sit below the five-star favourites but can nonetheless animate proceedings if they ride a tactically astute race. The extra distance should also play into a rider like Matthews’ hands.
“It’s a hard one because Roglic is the most consistent GC rider on the planet but he’s also really versatile. Alaphilippe goes in with some excellent form and will be one of the big favourites, and I think Pogacar will be one of the main guys too. I think we’ll see a really deep Ineos team, we saw that at Amstel Gold, and I expect to see the same on Sunday.
"The pure climbers will want to get rid of riders like Michael for a reason but this race is a Monument for a reason. It’s not 180km it’s close to 260km and it’s a race that wears down on people. The good guys can win anything but once you get into that sixth hour of racing it becomes an entirely different sort of race.”
White believes that although Matthews is still searching for his first win since rejoining the team from Sunweb over the winter, the 30-year-old is closing in on ending his dry run but that the level of competition - across the board – has been higher than ever this year.
“Michael has worked really hard this year and he’s been consistent too. He’s not had a win yet but it could just be around the corner. Sometimes it just takes one win, everything clicks and a rider can go on a roll. He’s come back into the team and it’s been seamless and we’re looking forward to this race before he has a short break. Overall the level has been incredible in cycling at the moment, and it’s great for the sport. Whether it’s the climbers, the sprinters, or the GC riders, the level has gone up and it’s a great time for spectators. There’s just so much versatility.”
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