Earlier in the month, the Australian crashed during Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, soldiering on to the finish, but he was forced to abandon Paris-Nice after crashing on the first stage. In fact, Matthews was expected to miss several months of the campaign due his injuries but after another scan of an injured wrist he was given the all-clear on Wednesday to race Milan-San Remo.
He was still in contention on the Poggio – despite his lack of race miles – but when Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) unleashed an attacked that formed the winning move, Matthews was forced onto the back foot. A valiant chase saw him come within a few seconds of the lead group, and although Alaphilippe would continue his incredible run of form, the sight of Matthews almost making the front group would have greatly pleased his team.
“It was pretty crazy, especially after my last race where I had a massive crash,” he told Cyclingnews at the finish. “To come into this race, where it’s so hectic in the last 80 kilometers is pretty scary to be honest. I just tried to turn my mind off, not think about it, and just race.
“When it was such an easy race, the sprinters were hoping that it would be a bunch sprint in the final. A lot of the sprint teams came to the front to slow it down but then Astana put on some pace in order to spice it up a little bit. Then, all the fireworks started after the first half of the Poggio. It was QuickStep who lit it up and then set up Alaphilippe for his big attack.”
At that point, the lack of race miles finally caught up with Matthews and the Australian was forced to ride at his own tempo. Depsite losing ground to the favourites, the 28-year-old was still good enough to drop the pure sprinters and the rest of the trailing peloton. For a rider with just over 600km of racing – including San Remo – in his legs since the start of the year, it was an admirable performance.
“I was a bit pinned at the bottom when they started riding at the bottom and then I came good towards the middle. The plan then was for Tom [Dumoulin] to attack and I just tried to stay as far up to the front as I could but I was totally dead. This was my first race in two weeks, so it was a hard day.
“It’s still nice to be back. When Tom attacked I was on his wheel but I decided to leave a gap to see if he could do something with Alaphilippe and some of the others. I just tried to get over as best I could but I couldn’t get on the descent.”
Matthews would finish just one spot and a few seconds behind his teammate Dumoulin, and given his momentum and form coming into the race the Australian could take a significant degree of optimism from his performance.
“Today was better than I expected. I thought that I was going to be dropped on the Cipressa, so getting over the Poggio with some of the best guys is a positive for sure. We’ll just see where we go from here.”