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Michael Matthews could become first elite men’s world champion on ‘home roads’ since 2008

UCI Road World Championships: Alessandro Ballan is the last elite men's world champion to win rainbows in their home country.

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Michael Matthews knows he’s on the cusp of matching history at the UCI Road World Championships if he can win the elite men’s world title Sunday on “home roads.”

Since the world championships inception in 1927, only 12 winners came from racing in their respective home nation, and the last time was in 2008 with Alessandro Ballan in Varese, Italy.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have this worlds in Australia and to be the lead rider of the team, it’s an amazing experience,” Matthews said.

“Personally, I am looking forward to the opportunity to do my best and see what I can do. Plus, I haven’t been in Australia since 2017, so that’s going to be special as well.”

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Matthews headlines a strong Australian team packed with firepower that also brings a touch of controversy.

National selectors left sprinter ace Caleb Ewan on the sidelines.

Matthews: ‘I had no influence in the selection’

Caleb Ewan was left off the Australian team. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

That decision brings additional stress. It’s more pressure on Matthews and the rest of the team to deliver victory behind one leader.

Matthews shrugged off the controversy surrounding Ewan’s absence, insisting that he had no say in the matter.

“I had no influence in the selection of the worlds,” he said. “There’s not much more I can say to be honest. At the start of the year we thought me and Caleb would both be there, but for any one reason, we are not. I am and he’s not. For what reason that is, I guess the course is really hard.

“We have to put a lot of faith into the selectors, and I had no input at all into the selection of the team, so hopefully they know what they’re doing,” Matthews said.

“They’ve selected the best team possible to put on the line for the world championships. The team we have is super strong. It shows it is a hard circuit, it’s going to be very demanding, and it’s not going to be a bunch sprint. We’ll have to wait to see. No one knows if it’s the right decision or the wrong decision until the race has happened.”

Pressure? Bring it on, says Matthews

Michael Matthews celebrates second and the UCI points that come with it. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Matthews is the center of attention among Australian media and fans.

Now 31, Matthews is one of the more illustrious members of the “Class of 1990” that dominated racing for much of the past decade.

In 2010, Matthews announced his arrival to the elite peloton to win the U23 world title, again on home roads when Australia hosted the worlds for the first time in Geelong.

Once again, a more mature and settled Matthews shrugs off suggestions that pressure could be a detriment.

“The pressure I take it as a confidence booster,” Matthews told VeloNews at the recent Canadian WorldTour races. “If you don’t have pressure, then people don’t believe you can do it. I take it as a sign that people believe that I can become world champion, and they expect it. Which is also a compliment.

“I have to look at it like that, and look at it as an opportunity that’s been given to me. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win a world title in Australia. It’s only two hours from where I was born. It’s going to be a very special moment.”

‘Banging on the door’ of Tour de France revival

Michael Matthews wins stage 14 of the Tour de France
Michael Matthews wins stage 14 of the Tour de France in July. (Photo: Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)

Matthews roars into the 2022 road worlds on a high.

This summer, a stronger and more determined Matthews returned to the Tour de France to win an emotional stage victory in Mende.

“It was very emotional in a lot of different ways. It had been five years since I had won a stage in the Tour,” he said. “I could really focus on the stages that suited me the best. We had Dylan [Groenewegen] for the flat stages, and I didn’t have to cover them, and I could really focus on the stages that suited me, and I was two times second and I won the third opportunity.”

Twice second in the opening days of the Tour, Matthews poured everything into a long-range attack on the road to Mende.

Years of determination paid off after a string of biting close calls at the Tour.

“For me, it was to keep banging on the door, and the door will open. I showed my emotions on the interview after the race and what it actually meant to me. It wasn’t just another Tour de France victory, it was so much more.”

No rest for weary ahead of Wollongong

Matthews will race Sunday after a very busy and intense approach to the worlds.

Matthews didn’t slow down after coming out of the Tour. A trip to North America saw him race at Maryland, and the pair of one-day WorldTour races in Canada, capped by second at Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec.

“I did San Sebastián and straight to altitude for three weeks, so there really wasn’t much of a break,” he said. “I went straight from altitude to Plouay, two days at home, then straight to Maryland. I just wanted to continue the shape that I had, and build on it, and not get too relaxed. I was worried about getting too relaxed after the Tour because it would be hard to get the body moving again.”

Winning on ‘home roads’ is rare in modern cycling

Alessandro Ballan is the last world champion to win on ‘home roads.’

Only 12 elite men earned their stripes on “home roads” across the nearly century-old history of road cycling world championships.

In the early years since the worlds inception in 1927, traditional racing nations like Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and France dominated the competition.

Into the 1960s, only Swiss, German, and British riders broke the worlds monopoly held by the traditional cycling hotbeds.

With the worlds largely contested on European roads well into the 1970s, it was naturally more common for winners to coincide their respective victories while racing on national roads.

The phenomenon of a racer winning on “home roads” is much rarer with the internationalization of both the peloton and worlds venues.

The 1970s and 1980s saw it happen only once per decade, and since Bernard Hinault won at Sallanches, France, only Alessandro Ballan won while racing on “home roads” in 2008.

Elite men’s world champions on ‘home roads’ since 1927

2008: Alessandro Ballan — Varese, Italy

1980: Bernard Hinault — Sallanches, France

1979: Jan Raas — Valkenburg, Netherlands

1968: Vittorio Adorni — Imola, Italy

1966: Rudi Altag — Nürburgring, Germany

1963: Benoni Beheyt — Ronse, Belgium

1957: Rik Van Steenberger — Waregem, Belgium

1950: Brief Schotte — Moorslede, Belgium

1946: Hans Knecht — Zurich

1935: Jean Aerts — Floreffe, Belgium

1933: George Speicher — Montlhéry, France

1932: Alfredo Binda — Rome