Other squads may be going into Milan-San Remo wary of talking up their chances against Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) but Team BikeExchange, which is yet to deliver its first European win of the season, is steadfastly backing Michael Matthews for the victory.
Matthews, who came third at Milan-San Remo in 2015 and 2020, moved back to the Australian team this year, after four years absence, and one of the key reasons why was so that he could target the Monuments. Saturday’s Milan-San Remo will provide him with his first, and perhaps best, opportunity.
“I believe it’s a race that Michael can win, and I think going into the race, he showed us that he has good form in Paris-Nice and we are certainly aiming to win ‘SanRemo’ on Saturday. We have a really strong and dedicated team to look after Michael,” said Team BikeExchange head sport director Matt White.
After the performances delivered by Van der Poel and Van Aert in recent weeks, there is no doubt that they are entering the race as the riders expected to be vying for the win. Even the powerful squad of Deceuninck-QuickStep with one of the most likely challengers, world champion and 2019 winner Julian Alaphillipe, is insisting it can’t be counted as a favourite for this edition.
If Team BikeExchange could pull off the win it would be the team’s first at the race since 2012 with Simon Gerrans, who Matthews had a rivalry with that weighed on the rider during his last stint at the team. It would also provide that first European win of the season, which the team has usually already got well and truly under the belt by this time of the year. The team’s best results so far in 2021 have been third in stages 2 and 6 for Matthews at Paris-Nice, plus a day in the yellow jersey of the race leader, and a second for Simon Yates during stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico.
White, however, has said that both races have been good preparation, with Tirreno-Adriatico not only being groundwork for Simon Yates as he works toward the Giro d’Italia but also a stepping stone for much of the team that is backing Matthews this weekend.
“The rest of the team have been getting ready for the classics and due to the big block of racing cancelled in February, it has been the first week of competition this year for a lot of guys here,” said White after Tirreno-Adriatico. “I think they have gained a lot from the big load and can move onto bigger and better things starting on Saturday, with the first monument of the season, Milan San Remo.”
Milan-San Remo is the Monument where Matthews has had most success, as apart from twice stepping on the podium he has consistently been near the front, with 12th his worst finish position in the past four years.
The 30-year-old rider also secured third last year under challenging circumstances, winning the sprint just two seconds behind Van Aert and Alaphilippe while struggling to hold the handlebars properly after scraping against the wall on the climb of the Poggio. No doubt he’ll be hoping he gets to step onto the podium without a bandaged hand and blood spattered shoes this year.
“Going to my next challenge of Milan-San Remo, I feel even more motivated to do well and our target is to fight to arrive until the last few meters at the front and play our best chances for victory,” said Matthews. “It will only be my second race of the 2021 season, but I feel good, and we will give our best shot at this unique and special race.”
Team BikeExchange for Milan-San Remo
- Luke Durbridge (Aus)
- Michael Hepburn (Aus)
- Chris Juul-Jensen (Den)
- Alexander Konychev (Ita)
- Michael Matthews (Aus)
- Luka Mezgec (Slo)
- Robert Stannard (Aus)