Moving to a new team with different targets has opened up a whole host of possibilities for Michael Matthews. The 26-year-old Team Sunweb rider changed up his spring programme with a trip to the cobbled Classics and a ride at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he finished fourth despite riding for Warren Barguil throughout the race.
The Belgian monument was not a race on Matthews’ radar – he finished 128th in his last effort in 2013 – so to come out of it so close to the podium has given the Australian pause for thought heading into the Tour de France.
“It makes me a more versatile rider,” Matthews told the press in a pre-race press conference on Wednesday. “When you’ve got flat stages, and you can also go for the intermediate stages, for sure it gives you more chances to go for wins. It gives me more confidence too that I can get through the intermediate stages with the climbers and still have a chance in the final. It opens up more opportunities for sure.”
With so many flat or hilly, rather than mountainous, days in this year’s Tour de France, there are abundant opportunities for riders with a fast finish that can also make it up the shorter climbs. During the week, US publication Velonews proposed that world champion Peter Sagan has 11 chances at victory. When that number was put to Matthews, he thought perhaps there were even more chances to add to his palmares in the coming three weeks.
“I would have to say about the same as Sagan,” said Matthews. “We’re pretty similar riders but maybe he sprints on the flat a bit better, and I climb a bit better. I think maybe about the same, 11 stages and maybe even more. I haven’t really calculated how many stages I could get. We’ll get through the first week and then we’ll see how everything is going.”
Sagan will be Matthews’ chief rival, with the two having such similar skill sets. Their ability to both climb and sprint could see them going head to head in the competition for the green jersey. Sagan has dominated the classification in recent years and is going for a record-equalling sixth after winning it in each of the past five editions. Matthews is likely to be one of the few riders who can even consider taking the fight to Sagan in that competition, but he says that it will not be at the forefront of his mind in the opening days.
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