• Michael Matthews started his season strongly with victories at Paris-Nice (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Australia's Michael Matthews has a “love/hate relationship” with Milan-San Remo.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
17 Mar 2016 - 8:01 AM 

It’s the race that reduced contemporary John Degenkolb to tears in 2014 before the German turned the tables on the Monument and claimed line honours 12 months later.

Matthews remembers the 2015 edition well having finished third behind Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and runner-up Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in a reduced group sprint of 26 riders.

“It’s one of those races that has something over me and I really want to conquer it,” Matthews said.

LIVE: Milan-San Remo
The 291km Milan-San Remo will be broadcast on SBS/HD and streamed right here on Cycling Central, Sunday 20 March from 12:30am AEDT.

The 25-year-old is set to lead Orica-GreenEdge at the race this Saturday, on the back of a successful season debut at Paris-Nice in which he won two stages, the points classification and marked a stint in the leader’s jersey.

“For me, even when I say Milan-San Remo it gives me that little tingle,” he said.

Matthews is set to have the full support of his team, which he said is paramount to success in the 291km event that in recent years has been weather affected.

“It’s around seven hours on the bike so you’ve got to keep in position and use your team as much as possible to keep you relaxed without having to do too much work through the race,” he said.

“Your team is really crucial in a race like San Remo where you have to save every little bit of energy for that final. I normally just try and switch off and then switch on for the last 50km where it’s time for my part of the job.

“You have to be confident that everyone is going to be in the best shape possible and giving it everything they have.”

Matthews will not face Degenkolb, who remains side-lined from a January training camp accident, at the event Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) has also forfeited through injury.

The Australian still has stiff competition, however, with former champion Kristoff as well as an in-form Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), who is vying for victory in his swansong season, among those set to compete.

Matthews competed against Kristoff at Paris-Nice but said he did not actively observe the form of the Norwegian, or other rivals, he will face in Italy.

“I was going for the GC, I was going for sprints and I was going for the climbing stages too [at Paris-Nice] so I didn’t have much time to look at other guys,” he said. “I just have to be confident in where I am at the moment and not think about where anyone else is.

“I know I am going well and I think if everything goes well on the day for San Remo I should be able to do a really good result, and that’s the main thing I need to think of at the moment.”

Matthews at Paris-Nice was climbing as adeptly as he was sprinting on the back of a four-month off-season during which he became well acquainted with the punchy parcours that animates La Primavera.

“I did more specific [climbing] efforts to try and lose a little bit of body weight and muscle to make sure I get up these long climbs, but still have enough kick in my body to be able to sprint and time trial,” he said of his general training.

“I have to be happy with the way I’m climbing at the moment. I’m obviously not Alberto Contador, who can attack on 16km climbs, but I think the climbing form I have at the moment is really quite good for my body weight, and considering I can still sprint and time trial really well, so I’m really happy with where I’m at.”

Matthews has made a name for himself as a versatile fast-man but is set on expanding his repertoire, adding the race scenario at Milan-San Remo be it group sprint or more selective finale should make little difference to his cause.

“I doesn’t really matter too much, I just have to be there and be ready for what’s going to happen,” he said.

Matthews on top of his preparation has the entrusted advice of three-time champion and former Rabobank team-mate Oscar Freire, which he keeps in his back pocket for Milan-San Remo.

“There is a lot of things you can be told from these sorts of guys but if they want to tell you that’s the main thing,” he said. “If they tell you it’s definitely a bonus but they don’t always have to tell you.

“I’ve talked a lot to Oscar Freire about this race. He knows it like the back of his hand and has given me lots of pointers but that’s between me and him.”