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‘Bling’ to rethink Tour ambitions in 2016

Australian Michael Matthews may take new approach to Tour de France after two straight years of frustration and injuries

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NEW ORLEANS (VN) — Newlywed Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) has spent his off-season in Monaco recovering from a long season that culminated with a silver medal at worlds and celebrating his recent marriage to his partner of five years, Katarina Hajzer.

After his strong 2015, the 25-year-old native of Canberra, Australia is on the radar with more standout results expected in 2016. A retired Jens Voigt recently shared with VeloNews how excited he is about the future of pro cycling thanks in large part to riders such as Matthews, noting his belief that it is “very likely that the young Aussie will become a world champion within the next five years.”

Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White concurred.

“I agree with Jens, sooner or later Matthews will be a world champion,” White told VeloNews last month. “When you look at his season and the targets we set for him, he ticked all the boxes.

“Sure, we have to turn the podiums at Milan-San Remo and Amstel Gold into wins, but I think they are coming.”

The 2015 Paris-Nice points classification winner and third-place finisher at both Milan-San Remo and the Amstel Gold Race appreciates the backing and looks forward to the opportunities as they present themselves next year and beyond.

“I take that as good pressure when a guy like Jens Voigt says that about you,” Matthews told VeloNews. “He really means it because he’s not getting anything out of it himself.

“Obviously he believes in my ability and me as a person to make it to that sort of level in cycling, so it’s definitely a motivational booster for me coming from a guy like that.”

The future indeed looks bright for the 2010 under-23 world road champion known as ‘Bling,’ who completed his first Tour de France bruised and battered with a ninth-place finish on the Champs-Élysées this year. A crash-marred start to the race decimated his team leaving Matthews with just five teammates in the first week after Simon Gerrans, Daryl Impey, and Michael Albasini were all forced to abandon due to injury. His maiden Tour was a challenging experience, but also a transformative one.

��I find it really hard to put into words what me and the team went through in that Tour de France,” he said in an interview for next month’s issue of NZ Bike Magazine. “I was pretty much 100 percent sure I wasn’t going to finish the stage that day.

“As you know the Tour is difficult to get through if you’re in top shape let alone if you have three broken ribs and skin off all over your body.

“It made it hard,” he said. “It made me a new person.”

Finishing the race was significant for Matthews, who was forced to withdraw from the start list of the 2014 Tour due to an injury suffered in a pre-race training crash less than a week prior to the start. But after two frustrated years with the Tour, the multi-time stage winner and leader’s jersey holder at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España is rethinking his approach to the only grand tour in which he is yet to nab a stage victory.

“For next year, maybe I won’t put so much emphasis on the Tour because I have had such bad luck in that race and I think it’s all due to me just being stressed going into the race,” Matthews shared with VeloNews. “I think putting too much pressure and stress on myself and that’s when you start making mistakes.

“A lot of the races I’ve had success, I’m always quite relaxed and confident of my ability to perform at a top level,” he said.

“The Tour is that race where I’m not really sure about the racing, so I think that’s the big part of getting through it this year which is to just experience the race and hopefully next year go into it a bit more relaxed knowing what I’m in for.”

Aside from the Tour, Matthews, who is in a contract year with Orica-GreenEdge, has an eye on the Rio Olympics in August, but claims he has yet to see the course and decide if it’s a legitimate target for 2016.

“There’s talk about the Olympics,” Matthews said. “I’ve talked to Australian selectors and my team about it, too. We just need to find out some more information, because I haven’t been able to get over to Rio to check out the course, but it seems quite interesting at the moment, but unless it’s a course that really suits me, I won’t really base my season around it.”

Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.