Still in the desert, ‘Bling’ Matthews already dreaming green

Michael Matthews is looking forward to challenging Peter Sagan for the Tour de France's aren jersey next summer.

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ABU DHABI (VN) — Michael Matthews again rued missing out on winning the men’s elite road race at the UCI worlds last Sunday, despite a mighty effort in the sprint that saw Peter Sagan defend the title.

But Matthews, who placed second behind Sagan in the event last year and finished fourth to him in Sunday in Doha, Qatar, is brimming with excitement over the prospect of next year squaring up against Sagan with whom he shares similar racing traits.

Matthews, 26, resumes racing on Thursday in the four-day Abu Dhabi Tour that will not feature Sagan, even though he was in the United Arab Emirates capital on Tuesday night for the annual UCI gala awards dinner as the celebrated back-to-back world road champion.

That means Matthews, who hails from Australia, will not get to take on Sagan until next season in which he will no longer race with Orica – BikeExchange after signing on with Giant – Alpecin.

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On Wednesday, Matthews, who this year won a Tour de France stage and is a two-time Giro d’Italia stage winner (2014, 2015) and three-time Vuelta a España stage winner (2013, 2014), was resting up for the Abu Dhabi Tour in which three of the four stages are for sprinters.

However, he spoke openly of the prospect of mighty battles next year between himself and Sagan, two riders who can sprint, are strong on hillier courses, and are unafraid of attacking.

But Matthews, like so many, is certainly impressed by Sagan’s penchant to read a finale.

“He always seems to be in the right position, so he is a guy that if you don’t have a team around you — if something happened to your teammate that you normally follow — he is a good man to follow because he is always in the right position,” Matthews said.

“And in most races too — whether it’s an intermediate climbing stage or a pure flat stage — he is always giving his best. Like me … if we see an opportunity to go for the win we give it everything. And I guess that is what people like about the sort of riders that we are.

“Whenever we see a result that we can try and go for, we go for it; instead of just being a fast sprint rider or a mountain climber. It gives you lots of options to try and go for wins.”

Asked if he saw himself as a similar rider to Sagan, Matthews said: “I would say so. We go for the same sort of targets … He can probably pull off more flat sprint stages than me, but I am learning to try to do that because if you want to try and go for the [Tour de France] green jersey, you have got to be up there in the flat sprints. That is something I need to work on … just my positioning in the big bunch sprints, but I guess we are similar styled riders.”

Eyes on the green jersey

Matthews anticipates many a tussle with Sagan in stages and one-day races, but he relishes the idea of fighting with him for Tour’s green jersey that Sagan has won for the last five years.

“Definitely. I have won it two years in a row at Paris-Nice. I know it’s not the Tour de France, but it’s a big race to try and get preparation to try to win it in the Tour,” Matthews said.

“Hopefully I can go to the Tour next year with good legs and a team that is going to support me in Giant. I am looking forward to it. I am sure it will be exciting for the people watching because we are riders that if it is a mountain stage, we will go in the break and try to win the green jersey point. I think it is going to be a battle all the way to the end.”

It is not lost either on Matthews, who is nicknamed “Bling,” that he and Sagan also have flamboyant personalities.

“Sagan has his style and I have my style,” Matthews said, smiling. “It is going to be an interesting year next year, to see what happens.”

But first, Matthews wants to finish the season — and his time at Orica — on a high.

“It’s been an amazing four years and I really enjoyed myself,” he said of his time with Orica. “I learned a lot from the guys in the team and the staff. I made some really good friends, really close friends, other Australians that I didn’t really know too well before, but who now I have worked with for the last four years … yeah, it’s going to be a bit hard to leave, but also a fresh start in Giant is going to be really special. They have got a really good clear view for me for the next three years and I’m really looking forward to it.”

How he finishes will hinge on how he has recovered from last Sunday’s worlds road race.

“We went there with a really strong [Australian] team and we came off fourth; but I gave it everything,” Matthews said. “I put everything into the race … didn’t quite have the legs.

“These last few days have been pretty difficult. I emptied myself in that race — 270km in the desert and with the wind and the heat, it was a big day. Two days after I was really sore in the legs and sore in the body, but yeah … I went for a ride today and actually felt a lot better. Hopefully I will get better through this week and try and get some sort of result.”

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