Australian Michael Matthews produced a powerful finishing sprint to claim the under-23 men’s crown at the world road race cycling championships on Friday. Matthews, 20, finished the 159-kilometer race ahead of German John Degenkolb, but race officials could not separate American Taylor Phinney and Canada’s Guillaume Boivin, who shared the bronze medal.
Matthews, who races for the Jayco team but is set for a professional contract in the Pro Tour next year, kept his composure in a pack of around 30 riders as they powered towards the slightly uphill finish of the 10-lap race.
Degenkolb launched his sprint with around 250 meters to go, but Matthews played a waiting game before digging deep and overtaking the German to win with room to spare.
As well as being Australia’s first gold medal in the category, it is their first of the five-day championships, which continue Saturday with the women’s road race and end Sunday with the elite men’s 267.2 km race.
Matthews, who has only been racing for four years but based his whole season around the race, was lost for words to describe his feat.
“I’m speechless, I don’t know what to say,” said Matthews, who was quick to share the glory with his teammates.
“They were with me the whole time, on the front run for me, being around me the whole time, making sure I had drinks, water, food, always asking me how I was. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The early stages of the race were dominated by American Ben King, the under-23 rider who stunned a host of more established names recently to win the U.S. elite national road race championships.
King’s early attack led to him being chased down by Australian namesake Ben King, but the efforts of both riders ultimately left them trailing as the race wore on.
Held on the same circuit to be used by the women and men this weekend, the course’s two main climbs failed to eliminate as many under-23 riders as expected.
Matthews’s team upped the pace in the last few laps before a series of attacks, notably from Frenchman Tony Gallopin, sparked the finale into life.
Gallopin ultimately failed to gain enough distance from his chasers on the descent from the final climb and at the last corner leading to the home straight the main bunch had reformed.
Matthews had started among the favorites, and kept the home fans happy with a superb victory.
“There was a lot of pressure but it worked on my side, so everyone felt like they had to beat me instead of me beat them,” he added.
“So I started off really well and finished better, I can’t really say any more.”
Phinney’s bronze medal comes two days after he won gold in the under-23 time trial, and he said he was happy to share it with his friend Boivin.
“Yeah we’ve raced together since 2007 in the Tour de l’Abitibi in Canada where he was beating me in sprints. So yeah, you never really want to share a medal but if there was one person I could share a medal with… I’m happy.”