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Twice on the final podium with third place in 2015 and 202o, the Australian star was working all winter to be ready for Saturday’s big race. As a sprinter in the sprinter’s classic, hope springs eternal.
“It’s always been my big goal. It’s my dream race to try to win,” Matthews told VeloNews. “I haven’t done it yet. I’ve been on the podium a few times, I haven’t stopped trying.”
Things were looking good for Matthews coming into the key spring racing period until a freakish wind took down the peloton at Strade Bianche.
Gusting winds literally blew riders off their bikes and provoked a massive crash, taking out Matthews and a host of others. Although Julian Alaphilippe somersaulted off his bike, at least the French world champion could keep racing.
Mathews, 31, was among the more seriously injured in the crash, and he was forced to abandon.
“I almost survived it. The guys were crashing around me, but I got hit from behind and thrown down really hard,” he said. “I was unlucky, so hopefully my luck can turn around.
“I heard some rumors that there was a helicopter involved and that didn’t help. There was crosswind, and on the dirt, we were trying to find some traction. We were going 60kph and one guy lost it, and it was a domino effect.”
Strade Bianche crash doesn’t help his San Remo dreams
As one of the members of the famed “Class of 1990,” Matthews was hopeful for a solid 2022 spring classics campaign.
Though he’s won such races as the Bretagne Classic and the Canadian WorldTour races, he’s never quite hit the top at one of the monuments, despite finishing in the top-6 at Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The confidence is there, the fitness is there, but the crash set him back at the worse possible time.
Last week, Matthews was hoping for more at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he was too banged up to be a factor in the early stages that favored him. Instead, he helped pilot rising sprint star Kaden Groves, who hit third twice during the week.
“All things considered, after my crash in Strade, I am getting better. I was a little worse than I originally expected,” Matthews said. “I was hoping I wasn’t too bad after the crash, and I am missing quite a bit. The stages suited me but I couldn’t be there. Everything was looking good, but I need some more time to recover from my crash, and hopefully, I can be there for San Remo.”
Matthews will see another run at the Poggio and Cipressa. Dylan Groenewegen is nursing a back injury from Paris-Nice and is probably too big to get over the Poggio with any real chances anyway. Luka Mezgec and Alexander Konychev also start for BikeExchange-Jayco.
Matthews is realistic about his chances Saturday. He knows if he’s not at 100 percent, he won’t stand a chance against the inevitable attacks that will come on the Poggio.
He’s also seen how the race has changed over the past decade. Ten years ago, a bunch sprint down the Via Roma was almost a certainty. Course tweaks and today’s watt-monsters like Wout van Aert and, perhaps, Tadej Pogačar can attack over the Poggio and fend off the bunch.
“It’s changed a lot. When I first did it it was the true sprinters classic, like Gent-Wevelgem,” he said. “With the way cycling has evolved as a sport, the race is different. With the new riders coming through, they’re changing the race to suit them, just like I did when I was young.
“It’s evolving quite fast. It’s exciting, and you never know what’s going to happen. It can be a solo rider or small bunch. That’s what keeps the race interesting.”
He knows to have a chance down the finishing straight luck needs to turn his way.
“I will have to see how I can recover, whether it will be to go with the attack or go with the sprint,” Matthews said. “It’s the big one I want to win.”