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Matthews relishes trend toward wild sprints

As races look to liven things up with tougher profiles, Michael Matthews is seeing plenty of opportunities to put his skills to good use

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JASPER NATIONAL PARK, Alberta (VN) — Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) isn’t a classic power sprinter, although his legs have plenty of acceleration. But add an incline, a twisting turn, or some other road deviation near the finish line and the 24-year-old Australian is at his best.

Matthews’ niche sprinting specialty is ideally suited to the changing ways of the sport. Long flat sprints have long been commonplace, favoring riders with straight-line speed and dedicated leadouts.

Matthews prefers the new and increasingly popular approach. “All of the races are sort of changing a lot these days,” said Matthews, who took a one-day race lead after claiming stage 2 in the Tour of Alberta in a photo finish. “There aren’t that many races you go to that are just a flat sprint. It’s always with climbs or up and down or crosswinds or something like that before you get to the sprint. It’s exciting for the crowds to watch.

“It’s just not for the big sprinters to take all the stages. It’s changed it up for a guy like me when there are a few climbs, it makes it harder for the big guys to get to the finish. It’s more exciting for the crowd, too, rather than a guy just sitting in all day and waiting for the sprint.”

Matthews’ seventh victory of the season concluded with a flat sprint in Grande Prairie. But it was preceded by a late, small climb that may have taken its toll on a few of the less versatile sprinters. The win also marked his return to top form after he finished the Tour de France with cracked ribs, suffered in a crash early in the race.

“I definitely don’t see myself in the flat sprints,” said Matthews when asked of his position among cycling’s top sprinters. “I’m not big enough or heavy enough for those types of sprints. But when it’s a harder sprint or when there are climbs in the race or there’s a climb to the finish line with an actual uphill sprint, that’s where I fit in.”

Matthews lost his lead in stage 3 with Tour of Alberta advancing into the Canadian Rockies. But he again showcased his versatility and strength while pedaling with the lead group of about 40 until the riders reached the steepest portions of the final three-mile climb to Jasper National Park.

“If you asked this question last year, I would have said [Marcel] Kittel was the strongest and fastest sprinter in the world,” Matthews said. “But he’s had a bit of a down season. I’m not sure where [André] Greipel came from, but he’s turned it around. He’s been very impressive this year. He won, what, three or four stages in the Tour de France? And he’s won almost every race he’s tried to win, so I would say he’s definitely the fastest guy this year. For sure Cavendish has had a bit of hard time this season. He was okay at the Tour, but he wasn’t as special as he usually is.”

Matthews’ strong current season has also included stage wins in Tour de Suisse and Tour of the Basque country as well as third place in both Milano-Sanremo and Amstel Gold. He was selected earlier this week with Simon Gerrans to lead the Australian men’s road team at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.

The road course could feature a traditional flat sprint in the finale, but it will involve some short but steep climbs as well. That makes it ideally suited for a sprinter who can also overcome challenging terrain. It’s the kind of a circuit Matthews can’t wait to negotiate.

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