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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Michael Matthews takes confidence into Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race. The Aussie known as “Bling” already won twice this season and placed second behind Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) in Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl (Brabant Arrow).
“The Amstel Gold Race is going to suit me,” Matthews told VeloNews. “It’s basically the same as Brabantse Pijl but on a bit of a higher level.”
The 23-year-old Orica-GreenEdge rider chalked up two wins in the last week and a half: a stage in the Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja and, at the UCI WorldTour level, a stage in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country). It marks the most promising start to a season since the former under-23 world champion turned professional in 2011. It also follows up on two stage wins in the Vuelta a España at the end of last summer.
After teammate Simon Gerrans escaped at Belgium’s mid-week classic Brabantse Pijl Wednesday, Matthews had his chance to win. He followed the wheels in the uphill drag to the finish, closed on Yukiya Arashiro’s attack, and responded to Gilbert’s sprint.
Gilbert, who won the road worlds title in 2012 a year after he swept all three Ardennes classics, won the sprint last week. Matthews finished second.
“I definitely had the legs to win Brabantse Pijl but I was boxed into the last corner by Arashiro. I couldn’t get through and had to settle for second,” Matthews said.
“I’m just coming off of two wins and that makes a difference heading into races like Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold. It’s nice to be back on top with wins under your belt because you go into the races with more confidence. I hope there’s more to come from here in both Amstel and the Giro d’Italia.”
Gerrans placed third in the Amstel Gold Race last year and in 2011. He gives the Aussie team its best option to win the Dutch classic. However, just as in Brabantse Pijl, the team has different options with Daryl Impey and Matthews.
“Orica will be one of the strongest teams because we have several options — and that helps going into it,” Matthews said. “We don’t just have one favorite, but three favorites with Gerrans and Impey. Being able to play off one another takes the pressure off and allows the other two to rest and to counter any moves.
“I’m taking confidence from the two wins and this second place into the Amstel Gold Race.”
Following Amstel, Matthews backs off and focuses on the Giro d’Italia and possibly the Tour de France. This year, instead of supporting Matt Goss, who will race in the Amgen Tour of California, Orica is backing “Bling” for stage wins. He already showed what is possible with a win in Lago de Sanabria and in Madrid last year at Spain’s grand tour.
“After the Amstel Gold Race, the Giro is my goal. Orica is aiming for the team’s TT in Belfast. We will see how long we can hold the jersey for after that, and I’ll certainly try to win a stage,” Matthews said.
“The Giro’s a goal for me. I hope to hold this form through to the Giro and have good legs there. I also want to take it onto the Tour de France.”