He had held down last place in the overall rankings for several days but Michael Matthews isn’t letting his injuries put him out of the race. The sore ribs and difficulty in breathing is slowing him down but, more to the point, it’s messing with his motivation… but he’s an optimist and he’s daring to think about arriving in Paris.
“He’s just not 100 percent,” said the DS of Orica-GreenEdge, Matt White, about the rider who finished eighth in stage 15. Michael Matthews is still suffering the consequences of the crash in stage three, but he remains in the race. We continue to follow the progress of this Tour debutant who features on the cover of our current issue (RIDE #68, on sale now). The 24-year-old has won a stage of the four Grand Tours he’s contested before this race but broken ribs have hindered his hopes.
His eighth place offers a hint that he’s getting over his injuries but still he’s not capable of using all his powers when it comes time to sprint.
“If he’s not 100 percent he’s not going to be able to compete against those guys,” said White in reference to the likes of Greipel, Degenkolb, Kristoff and Sagan, the top four in stage 15.
“He had a decent run in but obviously he got a little bit quacked there in the final kilometre. You saw the finish, it was pretty tight so once he lost a wheel, he couldn’t get a jump on.
“Michael had Degenkolb lined up going into that last kilometre but then a guy from Cofidis squeezed him a little bit. So where he started the sprint is where he finished in the stage.”
It’s a good result considering his injuries. Matthews had held down the position of ‘Lanterne Rouge’ but he moved up the rankings to 166th out of 171 after yesterday’s stage. For the first time in the most recent Grand Tours he’s contested, he won’t wear the leader’s jersey. We’ve known that for some time; the accident on the road to Huy made sure of that.
The stage to Gap was earmarked as one that suited a healthy Michael Matthews but to achieve a victory, White stated the simple fact yesterday: “He has to be in the break.” He’s not.
Instead we see 12 men at the front of the bunch with an advantage of over eight minutes. Once again Peter Sagan is in on the action, once again the Slovakian has taken out first place in the intermediate sprint. Once again, it would seem, he will win the green jersey at the Tour. That’ll be four from four starts. Although André Greipel keeps on collecting stage wins, the German who had led the points classification earlier in this year’s Tour is currently ranked second; 360 points for Sagan, 316 for Greipel. Add the extras for the sprint mid-way through the 16th stage – in a town called ‘Die’ – and we realise that this classification also appears to have been decided well in advance of the arrival in Paris.
Had it not been for the crash that wiped out OGE’s leader Simon Gerrans (who broke his arm) as well as Matthews, the Australian team might have been taking on Sagan in the race for the green jersey. That’s not an option: Matthews has just 10 points (and is ranked 94th).
Still, his team is happy to have him in the race, even if it’s just to keep the legs turning over for the next week. Matthews believes that he has some fight left in him for the balance of 2015 and he and Gerrans have said that the world championship are on a course that suits their characteristics.
He is fast but admits he’s not a “pure sprinter”. The uphill finishes suit Matthews and his first real showing was in the tough finale of stage 13 in Rodez. “I actually enjoyed myself for the first time today,” he said just after the stage on Saturday, despite the intense heat.
“It was a nice race that suited my capabilities with the short climbs and on hard roads. I could use that to my advantage [in stage 13] but I just didn’t quite have it in the final.”
Ordinarily the hill at the end of the stage to Rodez would have been a perfect finish for him but the physical limitations he has because of the injuries means he’s fighting more than just his rivals. “When I get down into the drops and start to sprint, it really restricts me. I can’t move properly.
“In the seat it’s pretty much fine but it’s that extra bit, when you’re trying to get that last bit out of yourself, that’s missing.
“I know in my head that I can do it and that’s a problem I’m finding hard to live with. My ribs are really holding me back and it’s also really hurting my head.”
Matthews was lined up well for the finish these last two days but the break has done on the road to Gap and he’s missed the chance in stage 16.
“My legs aren’t bad and hopefully my ribs and lungs get a bit better in the next couple of days and I can try and push myself a little bit harder.”
Paris awaits… what a triumph it will be if he even makes it to the Champs-Elysées. If he is able to sprint, then that’ll really be something to cheer.
– By Rob Arnold