BERGEN, Norway (AFP) — Michael Matthews has already stripped Peter Sagan of one jersey this year and now the Australian is aiming for a double at the world championship road race on Sunday.
Sagan had owned the Tour de France green jersey for five straight years until July, but after the Slovak double world champion was kicked off the race for elbowing Briton Mark Cavendish in a frantic sprint finish, Matthews succeeded him in winning the sprinters’ points jersey.
Now the 26-year-old, known as ‘Bling’ for his flashy style, is aiming to relieve Sagan of the rainbow jersey he’s held for the last 24 months. “I have one jersey now so we have to go for the second one,” said Matthews.”Everything’s been going really well up to this point. One goal was to win the green jersey; now another is this jersey.”
Matthews is enjoying the best season of his career having claimed two stages during July’s Tour as well as the green jersey.
Last year he finished fourth at the worlds, but in 2015 he came away with the silver medal as Sagan won both years.
But now Matthews will have the entire nine-man Aussie squad working for him.
“To have the full support of the Aussie team is something I’ve been dreaming of for the last couple of years,” he said. “To have the full nine guys here on the startline on Sunday gives me really a lot of motivation and a lot of confidence for myself to deliver for the guys who are going to be putting their heart and soul on the line for me to do my best in the finish there.”
Sagan and Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet of Belgium will start as the two outstanding favorites, but Matthews believes many riders will be lining up with the conviction they can come away with the rainbow jersey at the end of the punishing 276.5km race.
“There’s a lot of guys in the bunch that are favorites for this race, it’s not just a small bunch.”
Matthews has had some impressive results during his career, but he is yet to win one of the sport’s major one-day classics.
The Team Sunweb rider was fourth in Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the spring, while two years ago he was third at both Milan-San Remo and Amstel Gold Race. He believes the time has come for him to step-up and claim some major honors.
“When you’ve seen the course, I’ve been riding around it this week almost every day, I know what I’m in for,” said Matthews. “I think it’s going to be quite an open race.”
He has the advantage that he has already won a gold medal at these championships, a week ago in the team time-trial with Team Sunweb.
And his compatriot Mathew Hayman, who two years ago won one of cycling’s biggest one-day classics, Paris-Roubaix, believes Matthews can continue riding the crest of a wave.
“A big factor in this sport is what’s going on between the ears and if you’re having fun and enjoying it, which you obviously are if you’re winning stages in the Tour and the green jersey, then that’s obviously a big factor,” Hayman added.
Aside from Sagan and Van Avermaet, former world champions Philippe Gilbert of Belgium and Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski will expect to have their say while home hopes will rest on Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Kristoff won the European championships earlier this year and has won two of cycling’s prestigious ‘Monument’ one-day classics. He has three times finished in the top-10 at the worlds.
Boasson Hagen was world silver medalist back in 2012 and in July claimed his first Tour stage win after six year of trying.