MILAN (VN) — At 24 years old, Australian Michael Matthews already has Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España stage wins in his palmarès, and he has worn the leader’s jersey in both races. His next stop is the Tour de France July 4 in Utrecht, Netherlands, but to get there is avoiding certain roads and remaining relaxed.
Matthews was ready to make his Tour debut with Australian team Orica-GreenEdge in 2014 when four days before the race, he crashed on a training ride near his home in Monaco. He remained determined and traveled to Yorkshire for the Tour’s Grand Départ, but wrapped up like a mummy with six stitches on his left hand, it looked clear at the team’s presentation two days out that he might have to postpone his plans. The next day, Orica decided to race Canadian Christian Meier in his place. Matthews said his dream was shattered.
This time around, Matthews is avoiding the unlucky road above the Mediterranean coastline in Monaco. On the little side road leading down to his home in the principality, he rolled over rocks in the shade of accent trees, hit a speed bump, and crashed when his hand slipped off the handlebars.
“Definitely, I’m avoiding it,” Matthews told VeloNews. “I never had actually ridden down there before in my life, that was the first time for me. It was only because there was a car crash on the main road, so the police sent us down this little road that ended up causing the crash, which wasn’t really a safe road to ride on, but I was maybe going a little too fast also.”
Matthews raced the Giro d’Italia last year, in which he wore the pink jersey and won the stage in Montecassino ahead of Tim Wellens and Cadel Evans. He said he was in the best shape of his life, but something was not right.
“I think I was just stressed. That training ride was the best power I had in my life. I think that once I finished those efforts, I was just rolling home. I just sort of switched off and I was really excited, and that’s when these sorts of things happen, when you lose a little bit of concentration.”
He faces the Tour in a similar situation, but wiser this year. He again wore the pink jersey and won a stage in the Giro this year, to Sestri Levante, and also won stages in Paris-Nice, Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and the Tour de Suisse.
“I’m not putting too much emphasis on the Tour this year. I’ll train full for it, but I’m not going to aim for certain stages, I’m just going to train and switch off my head and consider it just another race,” Matthews said.
“I think my problem was that last year it was my first Tour de France and I was going really strong, the best I’ve gone in my life, and I think I just over-thought it a bit going into the race. That could have been one of the reasons why I had the bad crash.”
He wants to match his stage wins from the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. Last year in the Spanish grand tour, he won stage 3 and wore the red leader’s jersey.
The Tour’s yellow jersey is out of reach, Matthews said, because of the 13.8-kilometer time trial on day one in Utrecht. “There are so many specialists in the TT who will gain time on that day,” he said.
On one of the following days, perhaps on day two to Zélande, Matthews wants to grab a win. The remainder of his energy will go toward the team time trial in stage 9 and helping young stage race talents, twins Adam and Simon Yates.