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Simply starting Milano-Sanremo on Saturday is victory enough Michael Matthews.
The Sunweb sprinter looked to be down for the count for months following a horrific crash in stage 1 at Paris-Nice. Matthews suffered a concussion in a painful impact that left him battered and bruised. Later exams revealed no major fractures, and doctors cleared him to resume training. Defying expectations, his Sunweb team gave him the final green light to return to competition.
“After Michael’s tough crash in Paris-Nice last week we’re pleased to see him back in action this weekend,” said Sunweb sport director Luke Roberts. “After a recovery period off the bike, we will have to see what’s possible in the race. He has a good basis and is cleared to race by our medical team and hopefully, he can get to the final if we have a reduced bunch.”
Matthews played down his chances, telling Het Nieuwsblad that he’s “happier than when I won the green jersey.”
The quick return to competition comes as good news for the 28-year-old Australian who’s suffered a string of bad luck since winning the Tour de France points jersey in 2017. Last year, he broke his collarbone at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the start of the spring classics. Later that season, he was forced to abandon the Tour in July with illness. He bounced back to end the year strong, winning the pair of Canadian WorldTour races at Québec and Montreal.
Matthews is expected to race a full spring classics campaign, though the team has tweaked his schedule. Instead of racing E3 Binckbank Classic on March 29 and Gent-Wevelgem the following Sunday as planned, he’ll head to the Volta a Catalunya on Monday to get some race miles into his legs. Then he’ll return to Belgium for Tour of Flanders on April 7 and race a full schedule through Liège-Bastogne-Liège, April 28.
Sunweb, meanwhile, will go to Sanremo hoping for strong rides from Tom Dumoulin and Søren Kragh Andersen, winner of last year’s Paris-Tours. The team won its first race of 2019 at Nokere Koerse on Wednesday with Cees Bol, so confidence is high, although the young Dutchman will not start Sanremo.
“We also have Tom [Dumoulin] coming from Tirreno-Adriatico where he finished fourth,” Robert said. “He will look to cover the attacks on the Poggio alongside Søren [Kragh Andersen], whose condition is looking good coming into the classics.”