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That image wrapped up succinctly the oddity of holding cycling’s longest race in the midst of a world pandemic, and provided a telling detail to the story behind Matthews’ impressive third-place showing.
The Australian won the bunch sprint down the Via Roma behind winner Wout van Aert and runner-up Julian Alaphilippe. When the pair attacked over the top of the Poggio, Matthews got squeezed up against one of the retaining walls lining the emblematic climb.
“Other guys were just in front of me attacking and I also wanted to go and follow them. The door then closed in front of me against the wall, and I scraped my shoulder and hand against the wall,” Matthews said. “From that point I couldn’t actually hold my handlebar properly with my hand, but I knew the team did such a great job today so I didn’t want to give up.”
Despite suffering cuts to his hand that later required stitches, the plucky Australian kept his legs in the game to equal his best Sanremo result of third in 2015.
It was a strong showing for the 29-year-old, racing for the first time since Paris-Nice.
“Obviously I wanted to win and I think I had the legs to do it, but this is racing; sometimes you win sometimes you lose,” Matthews said. “In the sprint at the end it was all or nothing to see what I could get out of the race after the crash – I think being on the podium is nice.”
Matthews, who will be racing the Giro d’Italia later this season, is slated to race in a string of one-day races before Tirreno-Adriatico in September.
“It was a really long and tough day because of the heat but also the parcours; it was always up and down,” said Team Sunweb coach Marc Reef. “When we arrived on the coast the bunch had already suffered a lot. After the descent [off the Poggio], the gap was there and we tried to close it with Tiesj [Benoot] but didn’t succeed and Michael sprinted for a podium place. In the end I think we can be really happy with today, after the team did a really good job and with Michael’s third place.”