Michael Matthews says that Mark Cavendish was as excited as a Tour de France debutant as he made his way to Brest for the start of the 2021 race.
The rival sprinters stopped off for dinner at Paris airport before making their way further west, with Matthews saying it's great for the sport to have Cavendish, the winner of 30 stages, back in the Tour peloton once more.
"I think it's great for the sport. I had dinner with Cav at the airport in Paris on the way here and he was like a newborn doing the Tour de France for the first time. He was full of energy, really happy, really excited to come back to the Tour de France," Matthews said at the BikeExchange press conference in Brest. "It was something special that I hadn't seen in Cav for a while. And it was nice to have that atmosphere and I really good chat about everything leading up to the Tour and how he was really excited just to come back."
Matthews adds that it doesn't matter whether Cavendish wins a stage or not this race, the Manxman having made his way back to being in good enough form to make Deceuninck - Quick-Step's strong Tour squad already an achievement in itself.
"For a guy that's won 30 stages of the Tour already and to be this excited is something special. Whether he wins the stage or not. It's going to be awesome to have him back fighting for victories" Matthews said, then leaving the door open to the big 'if' Cavendish does manage to win a stage.
"And if he does win a stage or not it will be really special for the sport and for all of us as fans of Cav to see it happen, and he's got a really strong team to support him. So it'd be interesting and great to race against him, it'll be fun."
Matthews himself will be one man standing in the way of Cavendish for stage victories, having highlighted at least five where the Australian hopes he can challenge for the win, as well as the punchier two opening days in Brittany, where he also acknowledges Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert will be tough to beat.
"I've been working towards being good at these sorts of stages. These guys you mentioned are very talented riders, and they also suit these sorts of styles of finishes also," Matthews elaborated on his chances of taking a stage win during the first weekend of racing.
"I think I just need to try my best and not focus on what they're doing, focus on what I'm doing, and try and get the best out of myself and use my team to try and support me as best they can going into final of these first two stages."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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