Michael Matthews has the capabilities to one day challenge for the Tour de France green jersey, but such a goal will not be on the Australian’s agenda for his debut in the race this year, according to Orica-GreenEdge head sports director Matt White.
Speaking to Cyclingnews after Matthews’ third place in Sunday’s Milan-San Remo behind German winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and last year’s Norwegian winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), White said it is premature to declare Matthews as a green jersey contender for the Tour.
The 24 year-old Orica-GreenEdge rider was set to race the Tour last year, but never made it to the start line due to injuries from a crash while training in Monaco in the week before the start in Yorkshire.
White’s clarification on Matthews’ Tour objectives follows retired Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen, a former triple green jersey winner, telling The Canberra Times recently that Matthews is ready to this year challenge Slovakian Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) for the Tour green jersey that he has held for the past three years.
Asked on Monday about McEwen’s view, White said: “I think, first thing’s first … [Matthews] hasn’t ridden the Tour de France yet … and he is young,” he said. “Robbie wasn’t even professional at that age – at the age ‘Bling’ is now. So you have to put things into perspective.
"He has got the talent to be a green jersey [contender]. He has that ability to back up day in day out, to take points on the flats, to take points in the mountains. He is a similar rider to Peter Sagan, but our focus will definitely not be the green jersey at the Tour de France. It’ll be winning his first stage at the Tour.”
"Until we see those details – and some of those stages we might go and have a look at ... But there will be stages we definitely will target.”
Of Pais Vasco, White said: “There is one stage where we have won the last three years in a row – into Vitoria. It has his name written all over it.”
But the purpose of the Giro, said White, will be to use it as preparation for the Tour.
A last reflection on Milan-San Remo…
Looking back at Sunday’s Milan-San Remo, White was all praise for Matthews and his race. He thinks his third place was the best possible result this year, considering the circumstances of the sprint and Matthews' experience and development.
“He was under pretty clear instructions to look for Sagan - and Sagan only - on the Poggio. It’s one thing to have instructions and a plan, but he did it with ease. We knew he was on a very high level off the [team training] camp in South Africa.”
“Maybe, if in that split second there, had he shunted Degenkolb off and had a couple of more seconds on the wheel that might have worked. But that might have caused a crash, or those two might have fought to the finish and Kristoff might have held on.
"His season has only been going two weeks.”
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)