The Australian launched out of a diminished peloton and surged past leaders Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) in the meters just before the finish.
The four riders had built a small advantage on the group after attacking up the final series of climbs to the line. But all four hesitated in the final push to the finish, allowing the group to catch them just before the line.
“I was really kicking myself in the final that I wasn’t with the best guys going over the climbs,” Matthews (Team Sunweb) said after the finish. “I’m just lucky that these guys looked at each other in the final straight, and I was able to have a shot at them in the sprint.”
The victory marked Matthews’s second-consecutive win at the Canadian one-day race, which spins a hilly circuit through downtown Quebec City.
The thrilling finish came at the end of the 200-kilometer route which spun 16 laps of a 12.6-kilometer circuit around the old section of Quebec City. The traditional route includes three punishing climbs, arranged in a stair-step manner: the Cote de la Montagne, the Cote de la Potasse, and the Montee de la Fabrique.
Six riders broke away early, and to no surprise the early move contained North American riders: Canadian National Team members Evan Burtnik and Adam Roberge and American Gavin Mannion (Rally-UHC) joined Guy Sagiv (Israel Cycling Academy), Luis Mas (Movistar), and Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo). The group had five minutes at one point, until pace making from Team Sunweb and CCC brought the group back.
Mannion was the final breakaway rider to be swept up; the pack surged past him on the penultimate lap to set up the traditional battle on the final ascent.
Alaphilippe appeared to be in the best position, with Deceuninck-Quick Step teammate Dries Devenyns surging on the front on the final climb. Alaphilippe then put in a softening attack that drew out Sagan, van Avermaet, Colbrelli, and Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott).
With four pre-race favorites in the move, the race appeared to set for a four-way battle between Sagan, Alaphilippe, Colbrelli, and van Avermaet. Then, within sight of the finish line, the four riders stalled and looked at each other. Behind, a surging Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) led the group up to Colbrelli’s wheel, and which point Matthews made his move.
In his post interview, Matthews chided himself for not making the selection alongside Sagan, van Avermaet, and Alaphilippe.
“I made a big mistake at the bottom of the climb. I wasn’t in a good spot,” Matthews said. “When the big favorites went I wasn’t in a position to go with them. I’m angry with myself about that.
“But they came back and I was able to have good legs for the sprint. It’s a win but also a big mistake in the final.”