In Andorra on the first rest day Michael Matthews was ready to give up on the Tour de France. The 25-year-old Australian has enjoyed success in both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, but the Tour just wasn’t happening for him.
In 2014 he crashed in training on the Tuesday morning before travelling to Yorkshire. Although he flew to the UK, and even went on stage at the team presentation in Leeds on the Thursday night, he eventually decided his injuries were too severe on the Friday morning and pulled out.
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He eventually made his debut one year later. He’d already won stages, and worn the leaders’ jerseys in both the Giro and Vuelta and his Tour debut was hotly anticipated. But it quickly turned sour when he was involved in the huge crash on stage three that ended the race for several riders, including yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara.
Suffering with broken ribs and multiple abrasions, Matthews struggled on, spending several stages bringing up the rear as the Lantern Rouge, a position he wasn’t used to.
“I’ve already crashed twice this year, and I was almost ready to give up on the race.” Matthews said after winning stage 10 in to Revel. “I was thinking that maybe the Tour just isn’t for me. I’ve had so much bad luck in this race.”
“Then yesterday I had a good talk with my wife she kept me motivated to keep pushing. I really dedicate this win to wife. And my dog Geegee.”
Matthews and his Orica team mates played today’s stage to perfection, but they needed three riders in the break to beat the irrepressible Peter Sagan. “Me and Sagan go head to head in most races. In Suisse he got better of me two times.” Said Matthews who is Joining Giant Alpecin next year.
“I knew in the final here he was the man to beat, for sure he was strongest rider in break. He was pulling all day, never sat on, and gave it everything for break to stay away, so I knew he had good legs and was up for the win.”
“When I got in to the break with Sagan I was a bit unsure what was going to happen. Then I hear on the radio that Luke Durbridge and Daryl Impey were coming across to us. From then I knew it was game on.”
“They believed I could pull it off, and they gave it everything they had. Luke rode the perfect race for me. He split the break in two pieces and got rid of some key guys.”
He didn’t however get rid of Sagan who was eyeing the stage win and the green jersey. With six riders in the final selection, Impey attacked Sagan over and over on the 1.8km climb of Côte de Saint-Ferréol as the world champion set a relentless pace.
Sagan, riding on his own and with everyone knowing he’s the fastest sprinter there, lined the group out on his wheel up the climb, often swinging from side to side to prevent attacks. Each time Impey did attack Sagan was easily on his wheel, but the aim wasn’t to get away, it was to take the sting out of the Slovak’s sprint.
All the while, Matthews was glued to Sagan’s wheel. “It’s not rocket science, he’s the best bike rider in the world at the moment.” Said Orica’s head DS Matt White. “He’s a freak. Who would have thought that the guy chasing the green jersey, who has already won a stage, would go on the attack on a HC climb from kilometre zero.”
“For about ten stages of the Tour de France it’s about how do you beat Peter Sagan. How do we beat him and keep Michael fresh. If Michael is fresh he can beat him, and he did.”
Not only did the the win get the Tour monkey off Matthew’s back, it was payback for the Tour de Suisse. “Me and Sagan go head to head in most races. In Suisse he got better of me two times, so it’s nice to get one back.”