The 24-year-old Matthews has long been hailed as ‘the next big thing’ in Australian cycling, but has found a new lease of life at Orica-GreenEdge in recent years, having struggled to meet expectations at Rabobank.
With Matthews’ third-place finish at Milan-San Remo, McEwen, who took home the green jersey in 2002, 2004 and 2006, believes the young sprinter has all the qualities to challenge Sagan in France.
“It’s a good indicator to win a points jersey at a race of that level, the Paris-Nice or Tirreno-[Adriatico],” McEwen told the Canberra Times.
“I think at the moment Michael is probably the man to take on Sagan for the Tour green jersey.”
Matthews was set to compete in his first Tour de France last year before a crash in the week preceding the race forced him to withdraw.
Despite only being 24, Matthews is not short of Grand Tour experience, winning two stages of the Vuelta a España in 2013 and holding the Giro d’Italia’s leaders jersey last May.
Five top-ten finishes in the ten Giro stages last year were added to by five more, including a win, at the Vuelta as he finished sixth in the points classification.
And in his 2015 season debut at Paris-Nice, the rider nicknamed ‘Bling’ took a stage win and three other top-ten finishes on his way to winning the green jersey.
While Matthews may lack the top-end speed to challenge the pure sprinters, McEwen believes he can challenge Sagan thanks to his abilities on the hillier stages.
“In the fashion that Sagan has won it the last three years, he’s been competitive in the sprints – he didn’t win a stage last year – but he romped away with green with a million points lead because he can climb … and that’s something Michael’s capable of.
“He’ll have to do it better than Sagan obviously.”