Not even a pair of hand-painted, Tour de France-inspired Shimano shoes could help propel Michael Matthews to the top of the Tour de France podium on the opening stage of the 106th edition in Brussels on Saturday.
The 2017 points winner was among several big names caught out of position in a heavily anticipated bunch sprint final won by unlikely winner Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) over the likes of Peter Sagan (BORA-Hansgrohe), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
According to the recently re-signed Matthews, who inked a two-year contract extension with Sunweb three days before the race, a bit of bad luck played a decisive role in his sixth-place result despite his team’s best effort to place the three-time Tour stage winner and former yellow jersey holder in winning contention.
“As you can expect from Stage 1 from the Tour de France, it was hectic,” explained the 28-year-old Canberran. “Through the stage, it was all right, just a few of the climbs and cobbled sections a bit of stress. In Belgium, it's quite normal.
“In the final, we did a really good job to position me, unfortunately, the lead-out train of the other teams swung off a bit earlier than I would have expected and left me totally exposed with 300 metres to go on first wheel.
“From that point, it was either just go or get jumped and try and kick again,” Matthews concluded. “Little bit unlucky today, unfortunately.”
With team-mate Tom Dumoulin’s withdrawal prior to Le Tour due to a lingering knee injury sustained at the Giro d’Italia in May, Sunweb’s focus turns to back-up general classification contender Wilco Kelderman and helping Matthews deny Sagan a record seven green jerseys.
The three-time road race world champion, who is currently tied with retired German cyclist Erik Zabel, has won six of the past seven points classification titles, only missing out in 2017 after being disqualified due to his involvement in crashing Mark Cavendish in the Stage 4 final.
"It’s been a big journey to this point. All the talk before the year started was around supporting Tom for the yellow jersey in the Tour de France,” said Matthews prior to the race. “I was really hoping to ride the Giro, to go for the purple [points] jersey, but that changed as Tom did the Giro also, and now he’s out of the Tour also, so yeah, our plans pretty much flipped upside down.”