World championships: Michael Matthews interview
Michael Matthews talks to RIDE on the morning of his 27th birthday, two days after finishing third in the world championships.
Two days after standing on a podium in front of a sea of people in Bergen, Norway, Michael Matthews was in an apartment in Monaco with his wife Katarina and dog Gigi. In the morning, he agreed to an interview. He’d had an interesting few days the week before: first in the team time trial at the world championships with his trade team, Sunweb; third in the elite men’s road race with the Australian national team.
There was a lot to discuss but, when arranging the time, he asked: “What do you want to talk about?”
Before Sunday, he hadn’t been contacted by an Australian journalist to talk about an event for which he was one of the favourites. And by the Tuesday, apparently, it seemed like old news – to him at least.
Although it was a highly anticipated race, the fourth last for Matthews in what has become an amazing 2017 season, he seemed to think that his third place behind Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff was old news.
The vision may have been seen (even if some of the closing kilometres weren’t broadcast live), the reports written, the medals presented – and the championships in Norway were over. It was time to move on.
Matthews had other things on his mind. It was his birthday.
Just before we began our chat, the door bell rang. “That,” he said, “could be my birthday present from Australia.”
Katarina answered the door and Michael called out, “What’s in the parcel?”
“Gigi’s food delivery.”
Ordinary events for an extraordinary bike rider. But Matthews, for all his panache on the bike and accomplishments as a professional athlete, doesn’t really see himself as being much of a topic of interest. He’s happy to answer questions but equally happy to ask some of his own – to show an interest in topics outside the sporting bubble that he lives in.
RIDE was the first Australian media outlet to contact him for an interview. He didn’t speak to any Aussie journalists while in Norway but probably didn’t notice that his home country’s media had all but ignored the world championships… there was plenty of cheering for him from the roadside and that helped keep him alert.
When we finally got to speak, we talked about the enormous crowds in Bergen, his tactics for the road race, the challenge of the circuit and his rivals, the gold medal in the TTT… and what he had planned for his birthday.
“It’s a nice day outside,” he said at the end. “I’ll probably go for a ride.”
To listen to the interview, click the SoundCloud file and/or read the transcript below.
RIDE: I’m talking with Michael Matthews and he’s turned 27 today. He’s woken up in Monaco, I’m in Sydney and we’re talking on FaceTime. How are you feeling…?
Michael Matthews: “Not too bad. I got home yesterday from Bergen and am starting to relax a little bit, I would say.”
There was a lot of lead-up because well in effect you’ve been targeting [the] Bergen world championships for about two years now. You knew it was a course that suited you. Now that you’ve raced it and gotten your bronze medal, do you still feel like it was the course that was ‘The One That Could Have Delivered A Rainbow Jersey’?
“Um, yeah… it wasn’t quite a selective as I would have hoped. Maybe.
“We were hoping for a little bit more of a smaller bunch – and get rid of the really fast guys. But it didn’t really turn out like that, the way it was raced.
“It was a superfast course so there wasn’t as much start/stop which really zaps the real sprinters.
“We thought it would be a little bit more technical too. We also were expecting rain so it would have made it more difficult also for the really fast guys…
“So a lot of different things could have gone differently, I think.”
Ultimately we see the maestro of the worlds, a three-time winner now, ahead of you. And also Alexander Kristoff (of Norway); how important was it to have the crowds that were on hand for him?
“I think for him it was amazing but also for everyone else in the peloton. It was really incredible. It wasn’t like they were biased for the Norwegians or anything.
“They were cheering for everyone.
“I also felt personally a lot of support from the crowd. There were even a lot of Aussie flags there too which was really nice.
“But for Kristoff it much have been really special like for us when we had the worlds in Australia in 2010 – it felt really special. I think for Kristoff [Bergen] must have been almost a dream; almost a dream come true – only a few centimetres short from that dream, I guess.”
Exactly. Just before we talk about the sprint itself… there’s some footage of you on the podium amongst what looked like a rock concert. What was the sensation like when you were getting your medals? It was an enormous crowd! We’ve referenced it already but it was like nothing I’ve seen at a bike race before.
“Yeah. No. When I got up there and I looked in the distance, I couldn’t actually see further than I could see people. It was, I think, like 500 metres long but you could see people cheering and waving flags and just going crazy.
“I even said to Peter on the podium, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before…’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, either have I!’
“It was something that… I think it’s a long-shot to say I wouldn’t expect, but to it in cycling… it’s incredible to see where cycling is going in the world. To be able to have that many fans cheering for us when we’re standing on the podium – it’s nice to know that cycling is going in the right direction.”
Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
You were on the podium at the Tour de France and I know that you wanted to stay up there a little bit longer than you got the opportunity to. Compare those two scenarios for me: which was more thrilling getting bronze [in front of such a massive crowd] or the green jersey?
“Ah, for sure the green jersey. When you think about Paris – Paris is always going to be Paris… to be up there for [anything] whether you win a stage, you win a jersey, or whatever you’re up there for on the Champs-Elysées, it’s something really special.
“I think it’s something that you dream about as a kid, to stand on the podium in Paris for whatever reason and I got to experience that this year whilst winning and wearing the green jersey. That puts the cherry on the cake for sure.”
We’ve covered crowds and we’ve covered a little of emotion but talk to me a little bit about the race itself. Do we start at the finish and talk about the sprint? How do you want to tell the story of the race?
“Of the worlds?”
“I think everything was going really well. I was in a good position and everything and then I think, probably from what a lot of people could see, when Sagan was following me for that last kilometre and a half, two kilometres – didn’t really realise that. I was just focussing on what was going on in front of me.
“And then that second last corner, he got the jump and ended up on Kristoff’s wheel and brought [Zdenek] Stybar with him which made me lose my momentum and have to go back past Stybar and a couple of other riders that somehow got in between me and Peter and Kristoff between those last two corners.
“I had to move up again… and get back to them in the last 250. Basically from there they’d already started sprinting.
“It wasn’t the perfect preparation for the sprint but, for sure, they were really fast.”
The crowds for all the races in Bergen were impressive; it helped that the forecast of rain didn’t eventuate and the men’s road race was contested under bright blue skies.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
There were no numbers for any team. I think Italy might have had two just as the lead-out really wound up. That’s an anomaly of the worlds, isn’t it? And also a very long race – 267 kilometres. I don’t imagine your [power] numbers were huge… what was your power like when you were in the sprint?
“I haven’t actually seen my file yet but I’ll have to check it and analyse how I went. But I was also talking to Kristoff and Sagan after the finish and they were both saying that they were like second-last and last wheel over the top of the last climb whilst I was attacking on the climb to try and get rid of those sprinters.
“It’s hard to calculate where, sometimes, to use your energy.
“Like you said, it’s the worlds – it’s a gamble. Nobody really has team-mates left so you’ve almost got to try and create your own opportunities to try and win the race.
“I think our best way to win it was to try and get rid of these guys to make sure that it was a bunch kick that I really had confidence that I could beat them all.
“Unfortunately the climb wasn’t hard enough and it was too long to the finish to be able to really make it hard for these sorts of guys.
“I’ll see after I upload my file in the next couple of days to see how my numbers were…”
After a distance like that I imagine there not quite on peak… the surge by Tom Dumoulin, you know how well – you’ve raced with him a little bit this year, or at least you’re on the same team – was that a moment of panic? I saw you did put in a bid to follow him a bit.
“Yeah, well if you see the way he rode in the team time trial and the individual time trial, he’s not one you can let get up the road and expect to bring him back – especially when he says on Wednesday when he won the TT that he thought his power was reading wrong because it was so high.
“If you let a guy like that go up the road it’s really dangerous. I always had in the back of my mind that he was one that, if I wanted to win from an attack, [he] would definitely be a guy to follow. And I think he would also commit to try and maybe drop me on the last climb and go solo.
“I think it would have been a good option to go with him but also for him it wasn’t a hard enough race that he could make a difference.”
It seems almost remise but we’ve hardly referenced the fact that you did win a gold medal at the world championships alongside Tom and a few others from your team [Sunweb].
“Yeah, that was definitely one of the highlights of going to Bergen. I didn’t two races and two medals.
“I think the TTT was not something we expected to be world champions [in] but we knew we had a really strong team. Maybe we weren’t the favourites or a team that people were talking about but we knew we had really, really strong riders. Maybe they’re not the superstars of cycling like Sky or BMC but they’re definitely super strong guys.
“We knew the day before when we did the recon that, if we could put it together and everyone put in their best effort on the day, we knew we were going to be around the mark of winning.
“We weren’t going to shout it from the rooftops but we knew we had a really good chance.
“I think the best thing was: we didn’t feel too much pressure in the end. We just thought, ‘We’ll go out there, do our best and we’ll see how we go’.
“In the end, I think the course suited out team the best out of the three on the podium.”
I know it’s your birthday so I don’t want to keep you forever. You’ve got your wife and your dog nearby… is there anything else you’d like to pick up? You know I could talk forever but do you want to just reference anything? Are you looking forward to more [racing] or do you wish that you could just pack up and head on home [to Australia]?
“I’ve sort of got mixed feeling about still racing again this year but I still have another three races. I’ll try and have a little bit of a relaxing week this week.
“Everything has been quite hectic since the start of the year, I haven’t really had a rest.
“I’ll try and have a little bit of down time now but I’ve still got Tre Valli Varesine next weekend and then Lombardia after that and then I’m off to that new China race mid to end of October.
“I’ve still go some race days to go but here in Monaco it’s really nice weather at the moment. It’s like 25 degrees and sunny and blue sky so what more would you want to do than go and ride your bike in this sort of weather?”
– Interview by Rob Arnold