Michael Matthews will make his 2015 season debut at Paris-Nice on Sunday after effectively a four-month pre-season he hopes will pay immediate dividends in the race and looking forward to the spring classics.
By
Sophie Smith

7 Apr 2015 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:35 PM

The 24-year-old has not competed since the September UCI Road World Championships in Spain that culminated a season of ultimate highs and lows in which the versatile sprinter nonetheless announced himself as a key player at Orica-GreenEDGE.

Matthews is normally a dominant figure at January races in his native Australia but did not migrate home for the summer, instead deciding to stay in Europe with fiancée, Katarina Hajzer, and embark on a season preparation of seismic difference to that previously.

"It was my first winter in five years," Matthews told Cycling Central.

"When it is so hot outside your body can't really relax too much. It was nice just to come home from training each day, chill on the couch and not really have to do anything because it's too cold to go outside."

Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White in January compared the approach to Team Sky's ultimately one-off experiment where the squad substituted races for training in an effort to be more competitive in the 2013 Spring Classics. Even then, it's only slightly comparable to Matthews's undertaking given the outfit still competed at the Tour Down Under and Tour of Qatar.

"I think more the importance was using a longer off-season to train," Matthews said. "When I get to my real goal I know I've done so much base that I can get there and go full gas, instead of only having one month off the bike and then basically one month to prepare for my whole season. That isn't really long enough and you don't really have the base that you need to do these big races. This year I had four months to really prepare, which I think should last through the whole season now with the strength and endurance that I have."

Matthews has confidence in the untested approach ahead of a year in which he will shoulder more responsibility as a protected team rider. The 2010 under-23 road world champion has aspirations at Milan-San Remo, which a recent stint at altitude is tipped to aid, as well as Brabantse Pijl, where he was second to Philippe Gilbert last year. The Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne, Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and UCI Road World Championships are also on the programme.

Matthews marked a week in the maglia rosa at the Giro last year after Orica-GreenEdge claimed the opening team time trial, and won an individual stage before surrendering it. A training crash days out from the Yorkshire Grand Depart cruelly forced him to forgo a Tour de France debut, though he recovered to win a stage and lead the Vuelta a Espana for a time.

Matthews embarked on an informal training camp in Spain in December and has joined team-mates on two this year. He enters Paris-Nice on the back of a three-week stint at altitude in South Africa.

"I'd done all the long kilometres before," Matthews said. "I needed harder training to bring me up that last little bit before I start racing again so that was more the plan of South Africa."

Matthews will have fierce competition in his season debut with John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) among the class field racing for stages.

Orica-GreenEDGE has assembled an opportunistic squad for the eight-day race that is also amply equipped to lead-out Matthews, who has identified stage six around his Europe training roads as a target.

"These last four months has all come down to this point," he said. "I trust in (the staff) that they did everything they could to give me all the right directions. All I needed to do was just pedal so I guess I had the easy part, really. They had the hard part of telling me what to do and when to do it.

"I'm really confident in how I'm going and it should be hopefully a good race and exciting to watch."

SBS will broadcast every stage of Paris-Nice live!