Track cycling in Australia may not get the attention that it once enjoyed but Matt Richardson is a sprinter from Western Australia who is taking the world by storm.
Amanda O’Connor writes about this fast 23-year-old who is racing towards an anticipated rendezvous in Paris next year…
– By Amanda O’Connor
Sprint mania reached new levels of intensity at the penultimate round of the UCI Champions League at the Lee Valley velodrome in London on a balmy November evening last year.
A carnival occasion, with fancy striped kit on display, worn by riders vying for the prized turquoise attire of “League Champion”.
A partnership between the UCI and Discovery Sports Events, the ambitious Champions League project was launched recently and it brings together the world’s greatest track cyclists in a technology-driven live show, with a global broadcast aimed at elevating the sport to new levels.
The goal was to show off track cycling’s characters and rivalries over five combative rounds from Mallorca to Berlin, onward to the St-Quentin-En-Yvelines velodrome near Paris (which will be used for the 2024 Olympic Games) and culminating in the two-day London finale.
Before racing began, public expectations were to see the reigning champion, Dutchman Harrie Lavreyson – the reigning Olympic champion in both the sprint and team sprint – continue his previous dominance in a captivatingly predictable outcome in the men’s sprint division. Indeed, Lavreysen lead the competition across the Continent from Spain to France.
But a young Australian had other ideas about the final outcome.
In a powerful display, 23-year-old Matthew Richardson outwitted and outsprinted the incumbent cup holder to end the penultimate round with a two point advantage over Lavreysen.
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Eurosport commentator Sir Chris Hoy pulled no punches in declaring to the broadcast’s audience: “Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the era of Matthew Richardson!”
It was a stunning anointment from Hoy, the 11-time world champion and six-time Olympic champion.
Then, behind but not dispirited, Lavreysen won the final sprint round.
Suddenly, and contrary to all expectations when the league began, it would go down to the wire in the final race of the year. One man would need to draw on everything he had to overtake the other in the keirin on the final night of competition in London.
Lavreyson’s tight grip on the title that was to disappear within centimetres of the finish line, as Richardson pulled out of second wheel on the final bend to take the keirin win in front of a thrilled British crowd.
Richardson – the runner-up to Lavreysen in the sprint at last year’s world championships in France – had showed the world his rock-solid talent in winning that final race, and effectively exploding onto the European scene after COVID restrictions had kept the Australian at home the previous year.
Getting things started…
Matthew Ricardson’s cycling career began inauspiciously in 2013 as a 14-year-old junior at the local velodrome in Perth. His father’s interest in the sport prompted a family visit to the International Cycling Grand Prix at the venue and receiving a free pass handed out to children in the crowd on that notable night.
A national level gymnast at the time, Richardson had no desire to take up the sport of cycling in earnest until an elbow injury forced him into a lengthy recovery spell.
“At first I was devastated at being given an 18-month enforced break from gymnastics,” Richardson told Perth radio station 6PR. “Then I was thinking more and more about track cycling.
“I had been riding at the track for a few months and the sport suddenly began to hold a great attraction for me.”
With more time spent on the bike, he was soon identified as an emerging talent with a future that promised much. Just how much at the time nobody could have predicted.
Since arriving from gymnastics, Richardson’s rise up the world rankings in the sprint events has been nothing short of extraordinary. His light, young 50kg frame transformed in the gym as his results transformed on the bike, adding 30 kilograms of pure lean muscle since his early days at the West Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS).
Racing towards Glasgow… and Paris
Richardson’s career elevation has been characterised by an exceptional work ethic and considerable natural talent. He’s worked hard. Very hard. And his progression to the elite ranks has been nurtured by an unwavering dedication to preparation.
Going behind the scenes and seeing him at work is extraordinary.
Life is entirely different for Richardson now. Gymnastics is a distant memory and track cycling is his sporting focus. Food is now fuel, and rest is recovery.
“Maintaining my own standard of preparation is important to my approach to competition,” he says, “so the restrictions imposed on us during the pandemic were a challenge.”
During lockdown Richardson remained as active as he could, utilising the time to build a gym in his Adelaide home with borrowed equipment from the Australian Cycling Team.
“I really thrive on a heavy, structured workload. I was back in the gym on Boxing Day and straight back into training after competition. But,” he notes, “it’s always difficult to get the level of consistency you want.”
He trains a mix of track work and gym sessions, six days a week, every week.
The West Australian powerhouse has built up an impressive palmarès since his almost coincidental beginning with track cycling, having mapped out his future as national champion, Olympian, Commonwealth Games champion and winner of the Sprint Cup of the 2022 UCI Champions League.
The Australian has now caught the eye of the track cycling world with his impressive turn of speed, and he is already thinking about the possibility of a rematch with Lavreysen at the world championships in Scotland later this year.
“I’ve worked hard and gained a tremendous amount of experience in Europe. I’ve taken the opportunity to experiment tactically and I definitely feel I’m more in control with that element of my race execution. I have a great support team around me and that means a lot to my self-confidence.”
Following his victorious 2022 season, Richardson’s confidence invariably makes him a real threat for the individual sprint title in Glasgow this August.
He knows what it’s like to stand on the podium of a world championships, after Australia’s triumph in the team sprint in 2022 and his silver medal against Lavreysen in the sprint. But there’s plenty more to come from this young man who has the likes of Sir Chris Hoy paying attention.
The former gymnast is an Australian cycling star on the rise. Get used to seeing the name in the results of sprint events. As Hoy says, this is “the era of Matthew Richardson”, and long may it last.
– By Amanda O’Connor