LAGOS DE SANABRIA, Spain (VN) — Just five days into his first grand tour, 22-year-old Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) bolted to victory on Wednesday. After coming close Tuesday, Matthews got the big win he’s been looking for since sprinting to the U23 world title in 2010.
After crossing the line third in Tuesday’s stage to Finsterre, Matthews finished off hard work by Orica-GreenEdge to chase down a dangerous five-man breakaway that was only neutralized with five kilometers to go.
Matthews took good position on a narrow, winding finishing straight, and held on for the win ahead of Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida). Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), hunting for his first European win since 2011, crossed the line fifth.
“Yesterday didn’t quite work out like we hoped, but today we put all of our eggs in one basket, and I got the win,” Matthews said. “I was working all season to come here in top form for the Vuelta. I am very happy to get this win.”
Just 22, Matthews is already a seasoned pro, riding two seasons with Rabobank before joining Orica this year.
In his first pro season, in 2011, he won three races, including Rund um Kolm. Last year, he won the Clásica de Almería in Spain, and one stage and the points jersey at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. He repeated that haul this year, winning two stages and the points jersey at Utah before returning to Europe in time for his grand tour debut.
“I was hoping I could win in my first grand tour, but there were 20 guys who could have won today,” he said. “To win a sprint you need the support of the team. Earlier this year, coming to Orica, I had to find my place, so I did a lot of work for the team. Now I have good form, and the team is really supporting me. I hope to get a few more wins in this Vuelta.”
Matthews is part of a new wave of young riders from Down Under that is hitting Europe and making waves. The Australia-based Orica is home to most of them, including Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Leigh Howard, and Cameron Meyer. All are under 25, have major European experience, and are poised to take over Australian cycling when the likes of Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Simon Gerrans retire.
“I don’t know what the Aussies are feeding their cyclists, but there are a lot of good riders coming up,” said Matthews. “AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) is really good at developing riders. We train, eat, sleep, and race in Europe, compete in the big races, against good riders. That just makes you a better racer, and helps when you get to this level.”
Matthews is known for his penchant for flashy earrings, chains, and jewelry that earned him his nickname, “Bling,” at an early age.
“When I was 15-16, I rocked up to a track race, with my shorts down around my knees, about three gold chains, and as many earrings as I could manage to put into my ears,” he said. “One of my dad’s friends called me ‘bling,’ and it kind of stuck. So now I have to keep the ball rolling, and keeping getting more bling.”
It’s too bad Matthews can’t wear his trophies around his neck. Now that would be some bling.