Michael Matthews has navigated a mental minefield of a spring Classics campaign to stamp his first victory of the season on only 14 days of racing.
Robbed form caught-up with dogged determination in Matthews’ Tour de Romandie prologue win on Tuesday, the drive behind which should put marquee rivals on notice.
Romandie (and Eschborn-Frankfurt next week) represents the end of a racing block that the 27-year-old ultimately started disadvantaged.
Speaking before Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Matthews was mentally exhausted but not resigned having persevered through Milan-San Remo, over the cobbles and the Ardennes on the back of injury and illness.
“I’m in this mindset where it’s all or nothing at the moment. I am trying to salvage what I can out of the start of the season,” Matthews said.
“In the end if you don’t have the proper legs to be able to deliver a result you’re better off trying to gain experience again and get as much out of it as you can.”
The Australian suffered a fractured shoulder on season debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, and was sick twice between that and Milan-San Remo in March.
Matthews on paper actually had one of his best spring campaigns ever — a seventh at San Remo an improvement on 12th in 2017, as was a fifth place at Flèche Wallonne, which he came 67th in last season.
However, the suggestion was mere consolation to the versatile sprinter, who commenced pre-season training in November, and at the beginning of the year believed he could win a major one-day title this spring.
“My pre-season went really well, it was actually going almost too good. All my numbers were a fair few percentage higher than they were last year, with a lower body weight,” he said.
“That’s probably the hardest part about it all. I put so much time and effort into the pre-season and then crashed and broke my shoulder in the first race of the year. But the team has been super supportive, trying to keep my head on my shoulders and do everything they can to keep me focused and not think of the negatives – just think of the positives. That’s helped me to be able to deliver some sort of consistent results.”
Matthews, who became a first-time father recently, has come into his own at German squad Sunweb, which he joined last year before winning the green jersey at the Tour de France.
Sunweb, renowned for developing talent, has given him outright leadership opportunities not previously afforded at other stables.
Matthews in turn has opened his inner-circle of confidants from wife, Kat, and long-time coach, Brian Stephens, who is now at the outfit, to include and incorporate other general team staff and their suggestions.
“After I do Romandie and Frankfurt I’m looking forward to a bit of a break to be truly honest. I’ve been training full gas since the start of November and there’s been no time to relax my head,” he said.
“It’s been a crash, recover, get sick, try and recover roller-coaster of a spring for me. I’m looking forward to closing it up after Frankfurt and then focusing on Suisse and the Tour de France,” he said.
Romandie is set to be a satisfying if not reviving part of that outro.