Once it’s August, it’s time for teams to drip-feed news about transfers for the subsequent season. It took only four days before the German-registered Giant-Alpecin squad announced its star recruit for 2017: Michael Matthews will be back on a Giant bike next year.
After four years with Australia’s only WorldTour team, the 25-year-old will be part of the team that will be known as Sunweb-Giant in 2017.
Matthews has been part of Orica-BikeExchange (Orica-GreenEdge) since 2013 and has enjoyed considerable success, including a stage win in the recent Tour de France. But the decision to move was made easy largely because of a change in approach for the Australian team in the coming years and the promise of strong support from the German line-up he joins on 1 January.
Having won stages of all three Grand Tours (and wearing the leader’s jersey in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España) with OGE/OBE, it’s clear that he is a rider with enormous talent. There’s also a strong desire to improve on his performances in one-day races where he’s been close to big success.
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RIDE: I’m talking with Michael Matthews a day after it was announced that he would be joining what’s going to be known as Sunweb-Giant in 2017 (Giant-Alpecin in 2016). I imagine you’d sort of feel a bit of relief just to know that you’ve got a good team for next year…
Michael Matthews: “Yeah, definitely. I’ve been talking with Giant for a while now and they have the same ideas for the future for me. The same goals and same ambitions. They want to head in a direction that suits me and they are really willing to back me to try and achieve all my aims in cycling. It’s a big motivation moving forward in my career.”
It’s a very formal sense of occasion now where it’s a new relationship and you’re obviously speaking about the positive aspects of it all but is there a sense of, ‘Oh, it’s good to be gone’ from GreenEdge? Or is it more about looking forward to what’s yet to come?
“As you can see, I think Orica-BikeExchange is heading in a little bit of a different direction so I understand their decision; they want to go towards more the GC ambitions and I guess chase the pure flat sprints with Caleb Ewan.
“I’m happy with what they want to do and all I can say is that I’m really happy with Gerry Ryan and the Ryan family and how they have supported me through my whole career, to get me to where I am now.
“I’m sad to have to leave them now when I’m getting my biggest results but in the end it’s business and I understand that.
“I’m just really thankful to Gerry and his family for all they’ve done.”
It’s interesting that you reference the team owner in particular because he is very much a hands-on person. He’s at the team bus handing wheels to mechanics, chaperoning riders here and there and he really does feel part of the make-up of the team, doesn’t he?
“You don’t see too many team owners doing what he does. When we leave for the race, he’s telling us, ‘Good luck – do your best out there…’ When you get back to the bus after the race, he’s there saying, ‘You’ve done a really good job’ and keeping us really happy.
“It’s nice to have a guy like that who is so involved and being a motivator while he’s actually at the race not just through emails or phone calls. It makes you push a lot harder knowing that he’s there to support you. It’s a really nice feeling and it’s a privilege to be a part of something he’s built.”
I guess, in that team in particular, because of the work of Dan Jones we get to see a side of you and the rest of the team that probably isn’t represented elsewhere. When I say that, I’m considering a scene when you won the stage at the Tour de France and, in Dan’s Backstage afterwards, Matt White was leaning in on the dashboard of the car and tears were flowing. It’s a highly emotional experience. We get to see a lot of cycling because of Dan Jones. Can you talk about how that influences you as a bike rider and what your emotions are like after you watch an episode like that?
“Dan Jones is a legend. He gets the best out of us.
“With that stage I won, it was really special.
“For the riders that win, when it’s unfolding we don’t see what happens in the car – we don’t see how their emotions are or how it affects the staff. We just see the riders around us, our team-mates, and see their emotions. But to see what’s actually going on behind the scenes, whether it’s in the bus and the emotions from a big win like that or in the team car or the hotel, Dan Jones always gets that Best Shot and I think he really nailed it with ‘Whitey’ and his expression after I won the stage in the Tour this year.
“Matt started to get tears in his eyes and I’ve talked to a lot of guys in the team and they said they’ve seen Whitey be like that before.
“It was obviously a big release, a lot of pressure off his shoulders – that we won the stage – and it was so emotional for me too.
“After having had so many crashes in the Tour de France and so much bad luck to finally get that stage win meant all those emotions combined to make him actually start crying.
“To watch the Backstage Pass that night just before I went to bed was a nice finish to the day for me. It’s nice, obviously, to win a stage but to fall asleep knowing that everyone on the team is so happy for you to achieve one of your personal goals, it was really special.
“I can’t thank Dan Jones enough for those memories.”
You do move on and I think that the public is quite curious about your relationship with the team because there’s been perceived animosity at times. We’ve spoken about it before, Simon Gerrans and you have similar strengths and similar goals and a similar approach to racing. Do you walk away from it recalling that kind of dynamic?
“No, definitely not. I reckon I’m going to walk away knowing that I’ve done my best for the team.
“I can only really remember the positive times.
“I’ve had a lot of positive times at GreenEdge; 99 percent of it has been really positive and I’m going to remember all those really good times and think about the future.
“At Orica-BikeExchange I had a lot of really good results. I was able to win a stage in all three Grand Tours and be around the mark in some of the biggest Classics in the world. That’s a really good starting point for what comes next in my career.
“They are the best moments to remember in such a great team.
“For sure, I’m going to miss all the guys there but looking to the future, it feels like it’s going to be really good at Giant-Alpecin, a team that’s behind supporting me as I try to reach other personal goals in my career.”
People understand your strengths and it’s interesting how you talk about the fact that OBE is concentrating on GC with Adam and Simon Yates and Estaban Chaves and the sprints are for Caleb. You are a different kind of rider. Your Giro stage win, for example, was up the top of a steep hill taking on the likes of Cadel Evans. I’d said that you might be a force for the green jersey at the Tour but that wasn’t a goal for the team this year. And taking on Peter Sagan in that kind of setting is very difficult. What goals do you think you’ll have at Giant-Alpecin?
“I guess we’ll have to talk about the full details at the end of the year. We’ve had a little discussion about it but nothing is set in stone yet.
“For sure all the goals that I’ve set for myself already are ones that I’ll try and tick off in the next couple of years.
“I think that, while not really going for the green jersey this year and ending up third in the points classification, it’s a good starting point for the years to come.
“I think next year I’ll be able to go for it full-gas and see where I can end up.
“I’d really like to give Sagan a run for his money and see what I can achieve.”
He was your nemesis in Richmond last year and he got you with a great move in the finale. I know your wife has known Peter for a long time. She told me that she had known him since he was about six years old. What sort of relationship do you have with him?
“Me personally…? Not a big relationship. We talk obviously. We’ll go for a bike ride. But I think Kat’s relationship with him and his wife is probably a little bit stronger than mine.
“The Sagans just live around the corner from us so Kat and Peter’s wife hang out a fair bit and they might have a dinner together or stuff like that.
“If Peter needs support he knows he can contact Kat because she’s really switched on.
“We’re close but not super close.
“They’re always busy and we’re always busy so there’s not much time in the day, when we’ve both got full-on programs, to really hang out but hopefully in the off-season we’ll be able to catch up a fair bit.
“We’ve talked about doing some mountain biking and ’cross biking so we’ll see how it goes.”
I get the feeling that you’re the kind of rider who puts pretty much the rest of life on hold for the sake of your cycling career. For example, you haven’t come back to Australia in the off-season for a little while. It’s based on making sure you’re in form for Milan-San Remo and there’s no distractions. Do you get tired of the cycling life?
“Yeah, definitely. It’s full on. Everything I do is based around trying to get the best out of training and racing. At the same time I’ve got to try and keep my head switched on and I definitely couldn’t do that without my wife, Kat.
“She keeps me together and I would definitely be in a different place at the moment if I didn’t have her.
“We have a special relationship that works for us and we try and keep focus at the right times and then at the end of the season we’ll switch off a bit and go for a nice relaxing holiday. But even in the off-season I can’t be running around in circles doing a thousand different things.
“It’s also a really important part of the season and I think going back to Australia, for the moment, isn’t really on the cards because it’s just too busy.
“You use so much energy, mentally and physically, during the season that I find that it’s important to recharge in the off-season. I think the best way for me to recharge is to just sit back and do nothing. That’s what we’re going to do again this year.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold