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Michael Matthews rediscovering the spark at Team BikeExchange

Despite a string of near-misses this year, Michael Matthews is having a blast in his quest for victory.

“Humanity takes itself too seriously,” Oscar Wilde wrote in the “Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Cycling can sometimes take itself too seriously, but Michael Matthews is enjoying finding the fun in his bike racing again.

The Australian fast man returned to Team BikeExchange for the 2021 season after four years with Team Sunweb.

Also read: Team BikeExchange relishing return of Michael Matthews: ‘Bling’s a winner’

“If you’re not enjoying yourself then this is way too much of a hard sport to continue to succeed and get better,” Matthews told VeloNews. “We’re trying to find that happy medium of really being focussed and having fun at the same time. I think that’s what I was missing.

“It feels like I haven’t left. Whether you win, lose or draw, everyone is supportive. You get the same treatment whether you’re winning, or you had a bad day. We’re just trying to bring each other up to be better and to win and enjoy ourselves at the same time.”

Matthews has shown himself to be one of the most versatile sprinters in the pack, able to tough it out on a wide range of terrains.

He is one of the few riders in the men’s peloton to have set himself the task of riding most of the big-ticket spring classics this year, including the major cobbled classics and the full complement of Ardennes races.

This Sunday he will ride his third monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège after a sixth-place finish at Milano-Sanremo, and 21st at the Tour of Flanders.

“I’m racing pure climbers here, but it’s definitely a different style to the cobbled races. I think in the end I just love racing my bike,” he told VeloNews. “I have had an ok classics on the cobbles, but I think the Ardennes region suits me a bit better.

“In the end, you have to be very lucky to win in the cobbled races, and in the Ardennes, I think it’s more about the legs than fighting all day on the cobbles.”

Close calls and overcoming injury

Matthews is yet to score a win on his return to Team BikeExchange, but that is not for want of trying. The 30-year-old was part of the race-winning move at Gent-Wevelgem and won the sprint from the chase group at the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday, in addition to two top-three finishes at Paris-Nice.

Also read: Michael Matthews back with Aussie mates, and hungry for more wins

“That seems to be the story of the start of my season, close calls,” Matthews said wryly. “I’ve shown time and time again, the shape is there.

“I just need a bit of luck to fall in my way and I guess it doesn’t come easy, so you just need to keep fighting for it. I won’t give up, that’s for sure.”

A crash in the final 40km of Brabantse Pijl last week has left Matthews struggling with a few niggling injuries but the Australian is determined not to use it as an excuse for underperforming.

“My shoulder really is not OK, I also have a big hole in my hand, which made it difficult to hold the handlebars, and some skin off everywhere else,” he told VeloNews after his fourth place at Amstel Gold Race.

“I guess I just have to try and not think about it and to get on with the race. If you start to think about it then you give yourself an excuse as to why you weren’t good. Obviously, I could feel it, but I was trying not to think about it and focusing on doing what I was doing in the moment.”