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“Bling” is back, and he’s got business to finish.
Australian sprint star Michael Matthews is set to make his season debut with Team BikeExchange at Paris-Nice this weekend after a high-profile move from Team Sunweb over the winter. Having seen some of his best years with the GreenEdge franchise from 2013 to 2016, the 30-year-old is back where everyone wants him – and they’re confident in him delivering further success.
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“Everyone’s super excited about having him back,” said sport director Mat Hayman, who raced alongside Matthews for three years at Orica-GreenEdge. “We’re looking forward to winning races with him, like we did when he was here before.
“A lot of the guys in the squad this year have worked with him before, we’re all super-competitive and all the guys have egos and ultimately we want to win races,” Hayman told VeloNews. “And one thing that’s sure is that Bling’s a winner. There’s a real excitement about what he can do with us.”
Matthews will head up his team at Paris-Nice, starting Sunday. From there, he takes on a stacked schedule of one-day races stretching from Milano-Sanremo through to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with a second-career start at the Tour of Flanders on the way.
Having scored sixth in his debut appearance at De Ronde and twice hit the podium in Sanremo, Matthews is hoping to put new emphasis on his classics challenge with Team BikeExchange, and the team is all-in for taking him to the top.
“I think he’s looking forward to being back with the guys and trying to tick some boxes that haven’t been ticked. And we want to back him in that,” Hayman said. “There’s some unfinished business there, I think Sanremo is a big one for him.”
The return of Matthews will bring a heavyweight sprint presence to BikeExchange, which had previously relied largely on the Slovenian Luka Mezgec while it poured resources into racing for GC with the Yates twins.
While the 30-year-old Matthews has a special place in the heart of the squad and its management, he won’t be put on a pedestal as the team balances its ambitions around him and Simon Yates.
“Yes we’ll be changing focus a little in that there will be some more attention on races that Michael can win, but Simon’s goals are very clear, and he will be well supported,” Hayman said.
With Adam Yates moving to Ineos Grenadiers over the offseason, the team will be looking to rebalance its priorities rather than stacking all of its chips on only one of Matthews or Yates.
With Simon Yates committed to resuming his long love-hate relationship with the Giro d’Italia this season, the door is open for Matthews to return to the Tour de France having been snubbed in the Team Sunweb selection last summer. And with that, the two will tread different paths through the season, with Matthews heading up a team of rouleurs at Paris-Nice on Sunday while Yates follows the tried-and-tested route to the Giro via next week’s Tirreno-Adriatico before the Tour of the Alps.
“There’ll be no issues there whatsoever with changing targets and how much focus people get and with their goals,” Hayman said. “Just as Adam was supported, some of that support will be moved across to Michael in ways.”