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BOURGE-EN-BRESSE, France (VN) — Michael Matthews is in his second season as a professional, but already plans for big things: the world championships.
The 21-year-old Rabobank rider is based in Smeermaas, Belgium, just over the border from Maastricht and the start of the worlds this year. The race travels much of the same roads the Amstel Gold Race uses and finishes up the same Cauberg climb. The only variation is the longer, slightly downhill straight at the top.
Matthews often rides through Valkenburg and over the finish line. He dreams of leading Australia’s team though the narrow roads and sprinting ahead to the win.
It’s easy for him to have such thoughts — he won in a similar way and on a similar finish at the under-23 worlds in Geelong, Australia. VeloNews pointed that out and he said, “Exactly.”
Since turning professional last year, he’s proved able to win and able to deal with the punches cycling throws. His early season wins — last year in the Tour Down Under’s stage to Stirling and this year’s Clásica de Almería — were both followed by crashes. His crash in the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race this year prevented him from taking part in one of his dream races, Milan-San Remo.
He’s kept marching on. This week he’s racing in the Critérium du Dauphiné before taking a break to ramp up to what he hopes will be his debut in Australia’s senior worlds team. As part of that, he’ll race the Tour of Poland and may race the Vuelta a España for preparation.
“It would be a good prepare for the worlds,” he said, “but I think it has 12 uphill finishes this year, which would make for a hard race.”
Australia’s top one-day riders are also eyeing the world championships in Valkenburg, in particular Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans.
Gerrans often provides Matthews guidance and would be thrilled for him to win the worlds. However, he and Evans have earned their place as leaders in the team.
“Gerrans showed his form really well this year,” Matthews said. “If comes down to it, if he’s in better form then I’ll help him 100 percent. We’re all working for our spot on the team. We’ll go from there after the selection is made.”
He stretched and adjusted his socks. He had just finished the Dauphiné’s long time trial and the effort showed. However, in these 18 months of racing professionally, he’s adjusted well. He’s racked up four wins, including the Rund um Köln last year and Almería this year.
“The time’s flown since I’ve turned professional,” he added. “The things I’ve learned, and … I can also learn so much more over the next few years.
Matthews smiled and his facial piercings shifted. His youth and sprint strength would be a welcome addition to Australia’s worlds team. If he could pull off the win over home roads, it’d be something else.