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Michael Matthews: I love the pressure of leadership heading into World Championships

Australian talks form, Ewan's controversial non-selection, and Canadian WorldTour races.

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Michael Matthews will spearhead the men’s home team at the UCI Road World Championships (September 18-25) in Australia later this month with the BikeExchange rider telling VeloNews that he is in better form than he was at the Tour de France.

Matthews won a memorable stage into Mende at the Tour in July and is currently in Canada ahead of the doubleheader of WorldTour races coming up this week. He will fly to Australia straight after his North American venture before leading the line for the men’s elite team in the world road race.

The selection of the home nation’s squad was not without controversy with sprinter Caleb Ewan left out of the final selection.

At the start of the season, it looked as though Matthews and Ewan would at least share leadership but Ewan has struggled for consistency this season and there was a growing point of view within the Australian selection camp that the Lotto Soudal sprinter would struggle with the amount of climbing set to feature in the men’s race.

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Matthews will have a strong support cast around him with Jai Hindley, Ben O’Connor, and Simon Clarke among the men’s team. The non-selection of Ewan will certainly be one of the leading talking points as the championships come closer into view but Matthews admitted that while he was surprised not to see Ewan in the final selection the team was deep enough on talent to come up with a result.

“For me, I didn’t have any say in the selection and I’ve not seen the course personally. I can’t really be the person to make that decision when it comes to who is riding, he told VeloNews. “We have a big panel of people who decide. At the start of the year, when we had a meeting, I thought that me and Caleb would both be there for worlds but we got the call individually and it was announced one week later with the full lineup.

“That’s when we found out who was in and who wasn’t. I think we were a little surprised Caleb wasn’t going to be there but maybe it’s too hard for him, I don’t know.”

When asked if the selector had made the right call in not selecting Ewan, the BikeExchange rider said: “I’m not sure, once we get to Australia and see the course it will be easier for me to say if they made the right call. Then after the race, it will be easy to say if it was the right call or not but, at the end of the day, I’m sure it was a really difficult decision for Cycling Australia. But for me, to say if it’s right or wrong, it’s hard to say.

“With this team, we have more than single leadership. We have Jai Hindley and a lot of climbers who can take their chances in the race. I’ll do my race and I’ll be supported but we have other guys capable of pulling off a result. But I love the pressure, I enjoy it and I love it when people believe in me. It just gives more motivation and confidence to deliver.”

In terms of his own form, Matthews appears to be moving in the right direction. He was 23rd at the recent Maryland Cycling Classic but he told VeloNews that team tactics weren’t on point when it came to the final shake-up.

The races in Canada, with the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, will provide further tests for Matthews ahead of worlds. He has won Québec twice and Montréal once during his career and, according to the 31-year-old, he’s using these two one-day races to really fine-tune his condition.

“Obviously it’s going to be some hard racing in Canada,” he said.

“A lot of the guys preparing for the worlds are here in Canada. I think getting some good racing and results will be good stepping stones ahead of worlds. Maryland wasn’t a great result for us as a team but in terms of how I felt on a bike, that was the best I’ve felt for a very long time.

“Personally, I think that my form is better than it was at the Tour de France. I’ve been training specifically for one-day races, whereas at the Tour I was training to be good for back-to-back days. I was doing 10-minute efforts in training for the Tour and now it’s backed off to around five-minute efforts. It’s different form, but I’m feeling better than I did at the Tour.”