It was meant to be his final bout of training before making his Tour de France debut but it seems that Michael Matthews’ best intentions could cost him a start in the race that starts in Leeds this Saturday. “He was riding on the roads he usually trains on,” said his fiancée Katarina Hajzer about the incident, “but there was an incident and the police sent Michael in a different direction.”
Riding a fast descent on a road – “an old, small and rocky one which had speed bumps” – he would lose control of his bike and crash.
That was Tuesday. Matthews would spend four hours in hospital having his wounds dressed and under examination. It looked bad but he was to be one of the leaders of the Orica-GreenEdge team for the 101st Tour and so he continued with his original plans for July.
Bags were packed and, on Wednesday, he flew to Yorkshire to be with his team. He’s sharing a room with fellow ACT rider, Mathew Hayman, who is also to make his debut in the Tour this year.
With stiches in his hand and a lot of skin missing, it’s not an ideal way to begin the Tour de France. There is time to opt for a replacement but Matthews is still considering starting, albeit in significant pain.
“He was in such good condition,” lamented Hajzer. “Things were going so well for him; he has the form of his life and would surely have had a good chance in the stages in the UK.”
The winner of two stages in last year’s Vuelta a España – including the one on the final day of the Spanish race – made his Giro d’Italia debut this May. He wore the leader’s jersey for most of the first week and won the sixth stage at Montecassino while clad in the maglia rosa. More recently he won the opening stage of the Tour of Slovenia, was the runner-up the next day and third in stage four.
But all his good form may go to waste because of the crash on Tuesday.
“He has a lot of skin off,” said Hayman early today [Thursday] “and it doesn’t look good but he’ll see what happens in the next 24 hours… and how today’s ride goes.”
A decision will likely be made about his place in the race before the team presentation that begins at 6.30pm today.
Hajzer is optimistic about how Matthews is handling the ordeal and she plans to fly to Leeds later today to be present for the Grand Départ in Britain. “I think all bad things have a good ending and the season is long,” she said before adding that he is devastated about the accident – or, rather, the ramifications of it.
Of course there is the pain of the actual injury but also the frustration of being so close to starting the biggest race in the world, only to find himself wondering if the stitches in his hand will withstand the rigors of sprinting against the likes of Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, or if the missing skin will be too much of a hindrance to his performance.
“He’s in a lot of pain but he’s determined to be part of the Tour if it’s at all possible,” said Hajzer. “He can’t move very well. I had to dress him. And you know the injuries are bad when you see someone like Michael wincing in pain just because he’s putting on a shirt.
“Thinking positively though, these are things you can’t influence and despite the setback he is still motivated to race. He will jump on the rollers today and they’ll decide what to do soon.”