This was the year that Michael Matthews thought Milan-San Remo would be his. A return to Team BikeExchange, focussed training and building form had left the 30 year-old-rider convinced he could beat the odds, which were all in favour of a win from Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) or Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Unfortunately for Matthews it was another rider – Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo) – that pulled off the upset. For the Australian it was a few steps backwards after last year’s third place, not a journey up the steps of the podium where he has twice stood at the end of the race.
“I started quite far back [on the Poggio], but I eventually got to those guys wheel [Alaphilippe and Van Aert] , I knew those two were the strongest to attack on the Poggio. I knew I needed to be with them and ready to go and I could get to them and I could go with them once they attacked,” said Matthews.
A lead group of about a dozen riders, including Matthews, formed after that crucial climb, but then Stuyven slipped off the front. It then looked like the Trek-Segafredo rider was about to be caught near the line, but he kicked again and held off the sprint from the fast closing bunch. Lotto Soudal sprinter Caleb Ewan, who surprised by hanging in near the front on the Poggio, was the best of the rest and then it was Van Aert, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Van der Poel while Matthews crossed the line in sixth.
“We knew that there would be a split on the Poggio, I think a few maybe expected it to be a bit more selective, maybe five or six riders and not 12 or 13 riders,” said head sport director at Team BikeExchange Matt White. “The best of the best arrived in front today, and in those circumstances a lot of things can happen in those last two kilometres and in the end Michael has had a very solid ride for sixth place, he’s shown that every year he comes here he’s up for the win.”
Matthews has now delivered four top tens in the race, including third last year and in 2015, with his very worst result over the past five years a 12th. That’s why for Matthews being up for victory at the first Monument of the season wasn’t enough, he wanted to take it this time.
“I came here to win and I’ve done this race so many times now and it is just the same thing every year unfortunately. So close but yet so far,” said Matthews. “I thought this year was going to be the one. I trained super hard for this and it just didn’t work out, so definitely disappointed.”