Lead sport director Matt White said Matthews — who is back on the Aussie franchise on a two-year deal following four seasons with Sunweb — still has a lot of victories in his legs.
“We expect big things,” White told VeloNews. “He’s one of the most versatile one-day racers in the WorldTour. He’s capable of winning everything from Milano-Sanremo all the way through Liège. We’re really going to enjoy having him back on the team.”
Matthews, 30, will step into the lead role of classics captain and grand tour sprint option on hillier, more demanding days. White admits that Matthews doesn’t have the speed to beat riders such as Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) or Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) in a pure bunch sprint, but added he’s hard to beat on more uneven terrain and longer, more demanding profiles.
“Nine out of 10 times, he will lose to guys like Caleb or Bennett, because those sorts of guys are just too fast,” White said in a telephone interview. “But when he’s climbing well, he’s in another league. He’s a rider like [Peter] Sagan, but there are two new riders moving into that niche with Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. We will have our hands full.
“‘Bling’ is still improving,” White continued. “He’s one of the best of his generation, and though there is a bit of a changing of the guard of his generation, he can still win a lot.”
Like any sprinter or classics rider, Matthews has had his share of injuries, but when he’s in top condition, he can win across almost any terrain.
After leaving the GreenEdge organization in 2016, he enjoyed more freedom at Sunweb. In his first season in 2017, he won two stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France. He’s also picked up such one-day classics as the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France, GP Montréal, and twice the GP Québec.
Matthews, however, was left off Sunweb’s selection for the 2020 Tour. Though the team went on to win three stages in a highly successful race, the perceived snub did not sit well with Matthews.
White said the team wasn’t even considering to sign Matthews for 2021 until this summer.
“Lucky for us, [Sunweb] didn’t take him to the Tour,” White said. “That was a real catalyst for him to leave. He had a contract, but he worked his way out of it. He wasn’t on our radar for 2021, and we are the benefactors of that.”
Nicknamed “Bling,” Matthews was one of the highest touted young riders in Australia when he burst onto the scene a decade ago. After his U23 world title on home roads in 2010, he turned pro with Rabobank. In 2013, he joined White at GreenEdge, then entering its sophomore team at Australia’s first WorldTour team.
Matthews soon locked horns with compatriot Simon Gerrans. Both riders had similar profiles and strengths, and tension grew over leadership duties and opportunities both within GreenEdge as well as at the national Australian worlds teams. With Gerrans still on contract for 2017, Matthews decided to join Sunweb that season to have a more central role on the German-Dutch team.
“‘Bling’ left on good terms,” White said. “It was difficult for him with Gerrans there. He was young and improving fast, and he wanted more opportunities. It was a bit toxic there because both were very similar riders. ‘Gerro’ was very protective of his turf.”
Matthews’ imminent arrival will help fill the hole left by Matteo Trentin, who left the team after the 2019 season.
White says Matthews had untapped potential in the spring classics. Twice third at Milano-Sanremo, Matthews has the potential to win across a wide variety of one-day races, with White adding that he has the power and finishing speed to be a factor in races like Amstel Gold Race and Milano-Sanremo through to Tour of Flanders and the new-look Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“We think he could podium in all of them,” White said. “He’s a big addition for our Flemish roster, and for the Ardennes as well. I think he could even win Lombardia in the right circumstances. The worlds is a big target for him as well. If he’s healthy and training hard, we believe he can get some very big results.”