One year he’s winning stages and standing on the podium in Paris wearing the green jersey, the next Michael Matthews is denoted by a DNS on day five of the Tour de France.
“He’s not at all well,” said the Team Sunweb PR at the bus before the start of stage five, from Lorient to Quimper. “Michael woke up this morning not feeling well. He’s been vomiting and we’re trying to decide if he can even make the start.”
Turns out, he wouldn’t. One year after he won the green jersey at the Tour de France, Michael Matthews has quit the race after only four stages. “DNS. Stage 5,” that’s the report on the winner of three stages in the last two Tours.
This wasn’t how it was meant to be. He had tried a few sprints in the opening stanza; seventh in stage one his best result and he was sitting in ninth place overall before the illness struck overnight.
“There are a few stages I’ve got earmarked,” he told me before the start of the Tour on Saturday. One of them was the fifth stage; the undulating terrain on the road to Quimper suits him and the finish is ideal for his strengths, uphill and challenging enough to reduce the field – exactly the kind of scenario in which he generally excels. But it’s over now.
“I’ll call you in a while,” he said when I tried to contact him for further comment. In the short term, he’s getting some rest and just trying to cope with the sickness.
His wife, Katarina, told me that she got a call from him early in the day and he didn’t sound very well.
“He called and he was like, ‘Oh, I was vomiting since five in the morning,” said Katarina. “He was still optimistic and was telling me, ‘I’ll go to the start and see how I go. I’ll just try and survive the stage and see if I come good.”
He was going to the start in Lorient in a separate car to the rest of the riders but the Team Sunweb Mini had to pull over a couple of times. As they say, he was spewin’!
“It changed a little as the morning went on,” said Katarina. He would message me saying, “It seems fine, I’ll see how I go. And then 10 minutes later he was vomiting again.”
The great shame is that all things pointed to Matthews being even better in 2018 than he was last year. “It is really upsetting,” said Katarina, “because in the first few days the team was being calm as they wanted to focus on stages five and six but just as that moment arrives, he gets sick.”
“Before the Tour he was putting out better numbers than ever before,” said his coach, Brian Stephens. “It was looking like another promising Tour for him but now he’ll have to refocus and concentrate on other races later in the year.”
If you can’t even drive without being sick, it’s hardly possible to ride a 200km stage of the Tour de France, let alone try and win it.
Of course we wish him well and hope he has a speedy recovery. There’ll be other races in 2018 but right now, he has other things on his mind. In time he’ll recover, get to spend some time with his wife, six-month-old daughter and dog, and he’ll find his spirits again and get back on the bike. In the meantime, we recognise the loss from the race and note that there are now 10 Australians left in the race.
– By Rob Arnold