Matthews traded the chilly European winter preparation for the early Classics for Australian WorldTour race which in turn has changed its traditional race-maker, Willunga Hill, for a less severe ascent.
It’s not that there aren’t climbs but, under the stewardship of race director Stuart O’Grady, the key climb on the final day of the Tour Down Under is less than half the length of Willunga Hill – 1.3km instead of 3km – which is likely to limit the advantage that the pure climbers can stretch out.
“I think it (the course) suits me a little bit better than the hilltop finish in Willunga, so I think that’s why we put a lot to bring a really strong team here to the Tour Down Under this year,” said Matthews, after he took to the podium of a hot elite men’s road race at the AusCycling National Championships just days after arriving from Europe.
“We have also got Simon Yates who is in great shape too. So we’ve got a lot of options, which is good. It’s not just the one. So yeah, we’re going to play all the cards.”
The Jayco AlUla team also includes the power of Luke Durbridge, the climbing prowess of Lucas Hamilton and Chris Harper, along with the strong support riders of Michael Hepburn and Campbell Stewart.
Matthews arrived in Australia in Ballarat, and was soon racing in the sweltering temperatures of Buninyong in the 185.6km men’s elite road race at the Australian National Championships. It had been nine years since he took part in the battle for the green and gold jersey. He was closely watched as all the riders in the lead breakaway looked to him to chase down the moves in the finale as no one wanted to face him in a sprint. Despite the efforts he was forced to make and the lack of time to acclimatise to the heat, he managed to find his way onto the podium in third, behind Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Clarke (Israel Premier-Tech).
“With the heat out there today, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised of how I could perform … coming straight from Europe, where we’re training in ten degrees every day, to racing in 30 something today, I’m super happy. So now, I just look forward to TDU.”
Matthews has raced the Tour Down Under four times, winning a stage and coming fourth on GC in 2011, but he hasn’t been back to since 2014.
“It’s an honour to come back after a lot of years…