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Ride like Michael Matthews

BikesEtc
28 Feb 2018

The versatile and talented Aussie showman who’s as stylish on the bike as he is off it

Exciting Australian Michael Matthews has been competing at the highest level of the sport since the start of his career.

In his first season as a pro in 2010, he finished 8th at the Tour de l’Avenir – a kind of mini-Tour de France for young riders – competing well against other young hopefuls including Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Romain Bardet.

Even more impressively, he followed this up by winning the under-23 World Road Race Championship.

Joining WorldTour team Rabobank the following season, he took his first major victory at senior level, pipping veteran sprinter Andre Greipel to the line on the third stage of the Tour Down Under, Australia’s most prestigious stage race.

Since then, he has notched up plenty more impressive results, including individual multiple stage wins in all three Grand Tours. After joining Team Sunweb, 2017 proved his most successful season yet.

Matthews won the green jersey at the Tour de France and was part of the victorious team time-trial squad at the UCI World Championships in Bergen, following up with a highly creditable third place in the road race.

Expect more great things from him this year when he launches his bid for glory at the Paris-Nice stage race in March.

 

Fact file

Name: Michael Matthews
Nickname: Bling
Date of birth: 26 September 1990 (age 27)
Born: Canberra, Australia
Lives: Monaco
Rider type: Sprinter/Puncheur
Professional teams: 2010 Team Jayco-Skins; 2011-12 Rabobank; 2013-16 Orica-Greenedge; 2017-present Team Sunweb
Palmarès: Tour de France Points classification 2017, 3 stage wins 2016-17; Giro d’Italia 2 stage wins 2014-15; Vuelta a España 3 stage wins 2013-14; U23 World Road Race Champion 2010; Clasica de Almeria 2012

 

Don't admit defeat 

What? In another era, Matthews might have notched up even more victories, but he is unfortunate to be competing at a time when – like everyone else – his own great talent is often overshadowed by that of Peter Sagan.

But results in cycling are never a foregone conclusion, as Matthews proved at the 2017 Tour de Suisse.

On stage three with its hilly finale, Matthews launched a perfectly timed sprint to beat his nemesis to the line for a famous win.

How? Any cyclist can find himself faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges on the bike – although for an amateur, that is more likely to mean a hill you can’t get up without walking, or a sportive that’s just too far or too tough to finish, rather than a crazy Slovakian with interesting facial hair.

In these situations, don’t get angry or embarrassed, calmly analyse what it is that has defeated you. Then create a strategy to overcome it. 

Be a showman

What? Matthews earned the nickname ‘Bling’ for his love of jewellery – especially earrings – fancy clothes and flash cars, but he doesn’t only show his sense of style off the bike.

In races, he is a real entertainer, known for his attacking style and a feistiness that sees him unwilling to back down from a confrontation – as proved at the end of stage 16 of the Tour when he got involved in an altercation with John Degenkolb.

How? As long as you can keep it under control, a bit of aggression on the bike is no bad thing.

Indeed, a study last year from the University of Keele showed that swearing loudly can boost muscle strength and stamina, helping you ride harder and faster, as well as making you better able to tolerate pain.

Just remember not to do anything to risk the safety of yourself or other riders, and – like Degenkolb and Matthews – be a good sport and make up for any disagreements afterwards. 

Play to your strengths

What? After Marcel Kittel took five stage wins in the early part of the 2017 Tour de France, the German was over 100 points clear by stage 10.

But Matthews wasn’t going to give up without a fight, clawing back points on intermediate sprints and winning stage 14 on a punchy uphill finish.

On stage 16, the high pace set by Team Sunweb took its toll on Kittel, who cracked and left Matthews clear for a second stage win, all but wiping out the deficit.

How? Perseverance is the key. Knowing that he would never beat Kittel in a straight sprint, Matthews instead chased bonus points on the hillier stages and used his team to put constant pressure on the German.

Although Kittel’s retirement after stage 17 took some of the shine off his win, as Matthews himself observed, ‘ultimately, you have to get to Paris’.

Remember, the race is never over until you’ve crossed the finish line. 

Break through the pain barrier

What? At the 2015 Tour de France, a major crash on stage three saw Matthews sustain four cracked ribs.

‘I’m a bit sore. A lot of riders hit me at about 70 kilometres per hour into my ribs and my back,’ he said after the stage.

Nonetheless, he fought on all the way through to Paris and although his injuries prevented him from competing for stage wins, he managed a couple of top 10 finishes.

How? We’re not suggesting that riding when injured is a good idea, but the fact Matthews was able to complete the Tour is testament to the power of mental strength.

‘It’s more in the head now to get through the stage, not waste too much energy and fight again tomorrow,’ Matthews explained.

We all suffer pain at times on the bike, but with the right techniques you can train the mind as accurately as the body to develop the resilience that hard cycling requires. 

Aim high

What? In the early part of his pro career, Matthews would return to his native Australia during the European winter to take part in the National Championships and Tour Down Under stage race.

For the last three years, though, he has stayed in the northern hemisphere to train, kicking off his season at the historic Paris-Nice stage race and building his training plan around peaking for the sport’s biggest event, the Tour de France.

How? While Matthews loves racing in front of a home crowd, his ambition has seen him sacrifice local kudos to focus on bigger prizes.

Even at an amateur level, cyclists are often faced with tough choices – training for and taking part in a major sportive such as the Etape du Tour, for example, may mean missing out in other areas of life, skipping social events or cutting out treats.

Focussing on a clearly defined goal, though, makes you realise you’re not missing out on anything, you’re building towards a greater prize. 

Form alliances

What? Matthews is known as a world-class puncheur, the type of rider who excels in races that are too hilly for the pure sprinters yet not hilly enough for climbing specialists.

As such, he was joint favourite along with Greg Van Avermaet to win stage 14 of the 2017 Tour, and a marked man in the peloton.

‘No one else was going to help me and Van Avermaet,’ he said. ‘So we said we would stick together in the final, hopefully work together and stick to the front.’

How? Matthews refused to let the pressure of being favourite get to him, instead focusing on his race tactics.

It may seem counter-intuitive to work together with your main rival but by doing so, Matthews was able to eliminate other contenders and narrow down the field of potential winners.

The same principle can be applied in amateur riding – by joining forces with other riders with similar strengths, you can work together for the benefit of both of you.

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