Michael Matthews started 2024 with a win at Ruta de la Cerámica-Gran Premio Castellón on Sunday, indicating he has reset and rebuilt after a rollercoaster 2023 season filled with illness, crashes and personal disappointment.
The 33-year-old Australian will share leadership at Jayco-AlUla in 2024 with Simon Yates, Dylan Groenwegen and new signings Caleb Ewan and Luke Plapp, and he’s convinced that spreading the load or team leadership can be good for him and his teammates.
“In the end, for our team, we just need wins. And I think wins bring more wins. If we’re winning in multiple different areas that is only a bonus for the team,” Matthews told Cyclingnews with a simple but logical philosophy.
“I think having multiple leaders is the key to having a successful team. It’s the way cycling is going these days – the racing is so open and multiple different things can happen in your race, and I think having different options is definitely the key to success.
“So the arrival of the new guys doesn’t do anything to me personally. I think it only brings our team up to another level. If we have a faster guy than me in our team, I can do an awesome lead out for them and we can race together and give us different strategic options.”
Matthews targeted the Tour Down Under in 2023 but a trip home to Australia started a series of misfortune, crashes and problems that were exacerbated by two bouts of COVID-19.
This year he opted to spend his winter in Europe.
“This has been a much smoother start to the year, without the same problems. My whole offseason has been much nicer to prepare for the season,” he explained from Jayco-AlUla’s training camp in Spain.
The camp follows a weekend of success that saw Dylan Groenwegen also win the opening Clàssica Comunitat Valenciana 1969 race. The sun is out in Spain and Matthews was upbeat.
“We threw these races in just to sort of break up the training camp a little bit and to have a hit out and see how the off-season has gone. It seems to have gone really well…” he said.
Matthews is nicknamed Bling for his success, his showmanship and his love for jewellery and fast cars. Yet he is also an introspective and sensitive soul, who dedicates his life to racing. He can celebrate big victories but also suffers in defeat, his emotions often pouring out.
“Anyone that is close to me knows how much I put into the sport. Cycling is my world,” Matthews confided to Cyclingnews. “I live here in Europe, with my family, away from my close family, who are all in Australia, friends, everything.
“You have to give up everything you have in Australia to be here in Europe to try and achieve your dreams in the sport that you love. That’s not easy.
“So when I do get a win, it’s extra special because I know how much I’ve put into it. That’s why I let my emotions out whether I win or lose. It’s because of how much of my life that I put into the sport.”
Matthew’s determination has helped him overcome disappointment and savour success year after year since he won the under-23 world title in Australia in 2010.
His palmarès includes four stages at the Tour de France and the green points jersey in 2017. He has won several WorldTour Classics and has come close in a number of Monuments, only for crashes, moments of misfortune, twists of fate or simply stronger rivals to beat him. Yet he keeps fighting back.
“Unfortunately, it seems to be the story of my career. I have a lot of setbacks and then I bounce back in a really good way, which is nice. But it’d be nice to not have so many setbacks,” Matthews said, still able to see his glass half full.
“If you look at my results, this from last year, it looks like one of my worst seasons but if you consider all the stuff that happened along the way, I continued bouncing back to a really high level, which shows how much time and effort I put into the sport.
“By the end of the season, I was mentally and physically dark and I couldn’t I couldn’t do more. So I really stepped away from my bike and just enjoyed resting. It means I’ve started this season much more motivated and mentally and physically fresh. I came back on the bike smiling and enjoying myself. Now I’m just focusing on this year.”
‘I’m sure I’ll get my chance in a big Classic sooner or later’
Matthews will again target the spring Classics and then focus on the Paris Olympic Games, with a decision on riding the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France dependent on the two and on Jayco-AlUla’s other ambitions.
“The Olympics are definitely a big goal. Firstly, to make the team and then secondly, to do a top result,” he said. “I’ve never done the Olympics so that will be something special. It seems the course really suits me well, so that’ll definitely be a massive goal.
“I think the Paris course suits my style of riding, that aggressive style. With just 90 or so riders and small teams, it’s going to be a little bit less predictable, which I really liked.”
Of course, chronologically the Classics come first. Matthews’ range of ability means he is suited to many of them, from Milan-San Remo to La Flèche Wallonne. He has top podiums at the latter to his name, plus a fourth and sixth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Flanders and a wealth of top 10s in the Ardennes.
“It’d be good to try and do my thing this year in the Classics. Last year I got COVID-19 at Pais-Nice and crashed out at the Tour of Flanders, wrecking the rest of my spring,” Matthews recalls, hoping for a turn in his fortunes and the performances of his close friend, Monaco neighbour, and frequent training partner Tadej Pogačar.
“Tadej and the new generation of riders have changed the racing since I started as a professional, all the racing has changed,” Matthews added in admiration.
Thanks to his fast finish, Matthews can race a little more defensively and wait for the sprint but knows he has to adapt to the current trend of aggressive racing.
“They race that way, attacking with 100km to go, because that’s what suits them. if you let them ride their race, then you’re probably going to lose so you need to go in a different way,” he pointed out.
“I just need to focus on my race and make sure I’m, I’m racing my race not to racing their race. They’ve started the races earlier and earlier now to try to make riders like me do extra work. But I’m training for that, too. So hopefully, it works out. I’m sure I’ll get my chance in a big Classic sooner or later.”