Michael Matthews claims silver at Road Worlds
28 September 2015
ROAD CYCLING: Michael Matthews (ACT) won the reduced bunch sprint to claim the silver medal at the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia on Sunday.
The 25-year-old finished three seconds behind Peter Sagan (Slovakia) who made the race-winning move on the final ascent of 23rd Street just inside the final three kilometres. Matthews’ medals makes it back-to-back silver for Australia in the elite men’s race following Simon Gerrans’ second-place finish in Ponferrada, Spain last year.
“Today was a massive day,” said Elite Men’s National Road Coach Brad McGee. “It was a huge day for cycling and an incredible day for Australia. I don’t think a World Championship has ever been so exciting in my memory.
“As Australians, we have to pinch ourselves and realise that there is a silver medal here for a 25-year-old who showed great form and composure in a quite difficult day in the end – a lot more difficult than most people were thinking.”
The one-day race in Richmond had a Classics-like feel to it as the elite men’s peloton lined up for a 261.4 kilometre day (18.1 kilometres followed by 15 laps of the 16.2 kilometre circuit). While overcast skies threatened rain during the first five hours of the six plus hour of the race, light drizzle was the worst of the weather conditions.
“I really enjoyed the race today,” said Matthews. “It was a nice course with the uphill cobbles and the three climbs in the final five kilometres. I’ve never raced a circuit like this.”
A breakaway of eight riders animated the early action and opened the biggest gap of the day. The group stretched their advantage out to five minutes before the peloton shut down the move with five laps left to race.
With the early breakaway caught, the race would be animated all the way to the finish. Numerous attacks led to several different late race moves and splits in the peloton including a particularly dangerous seven-rider group that included defending world champion Michael Kwiatkowski (Poland), Tom Boonen (Belgium), Ian Stannard (Great Britain), Dani Moreno (Spain), Andrey Amador (Costa Rica), Bauke Mollema (Netherlands) and Elia Viviani (Italy). The seven had pocketed 30 seconds with two laps left to race.
By that point both Luke Durbridge (WA) and Jay McCarthy (QLD) had crashed out of the race, leaving Australia with seven riders. Simon Clarke (VIC), Adam Hansen (STATE), Mat Hayman (CAN) and Mitch Docker (VIC) combined forces with Germany in a frenzied chase to close the gap to the seven frontrunners. Their combined efforts proved fruitful. With just over one lap left to race, a reduced peloton overtook the breakaway up the 23rd Street climb.
“I’m proud of how the boys orchestrated today,” noted McGee. “All of them rose to the occasion, and in many cases, they rode above themselves. The guys gelled well and stuck to the game plan.”
Clarke and Docker, spent from the chase, joined McCarthy and Durbridge in the pits to watch the final lap of the race unfold. A flurry of last lap attacks made for a hectic finale. Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) launched on the Libby Hill cobbles. John Degenkolb (Germany) and Greg van Avermaet (Belgium) marked the move. A select group dragged themselves up toward the trio before 23rd Street, which proved the perfect launching pad for Sagan’s attack.
“I was about fifth or sixth wheel when Sagan went,” said Matthews. “There were two guys between me and the three that got away dropped the wheel. I thought some other guys would chase to close it, but they didn’t.
“There were still three kilometres to go and such a hard finale. I didn’t think he’d have enough legs to get to the finish, but I obviously underestimated him.”
Michael Matthews bided his time, hoping an organised chase could shut down the powerful move. Despite a brilliant effort by Haussler to bridge the gap for Matthews, Sagan stayed away to win the rainbow jersey.
Matthews proved best of the rest to take out the reduced bunch sprint while Simon Gerrans, who was given free rein to take his chances in the final, came home in sixth place to give Australia two riders in the top six.
“Heinrich did a really good job to try to pull it back on the climb,” Matthews said. “But he was working all race today to keep it together and keep me in good position, so he didn’t have the legs left. He put me in the perfect position in the final, which was critical, so I’m really grateful for that.”
“I came here to win the race today,” said Matthews. “I had the legs and the form to win today, but Sagan slid away there in the final, and we weren’t able to catch him. This is the one that I really cared about. My entire season pointed toward this point. Of course I’m disappointed.”
While McGee understands Matthews’ disappointment, he offers a slightly different perspective on the finale and the result.
“I’ve watched the highlights now and in the end, Sagan was untouchable,” said McGee. “His climbing, his descending, his cornering, his ability to hold that volume of intensity all the way to the line. I don’t know what anyone could have done to respond to that.”
“We can be disappointed because we were in it for the win, but you also have to take stock and realise the fantastic performances produced by the team today,” added McGee.
“Those boys out there were absolutely incredible – from Durbo to Jay to Mitch and Heinrich to Hayman, who was an inspiration as captain and made huge physical contributions. Adam Hansen was all the way in.
"Those guys did Australia proud.”