It was a surprise announcement during the season, that a contracted Michael Matthews had found a way out of his Sunweb deal for 2021 and was instead returning to Australian WorldTour squad Mitchelton-Scott after departing in 2016.
The shock move came after an eyebrow-raising choice to leave Matthews out of the Sunweb squad for the Tour de France, with the course seeming to suit the Australian's talents. Sunweb performed well despite their star's absence, with three stage wins after the emergence of Marc Hirschi and Soren Kragh Andersen.
Sunweb's loss was Mitchelton-Scott's gain, as White explained.
"Lucky for us, [Sunweb] didn’t take him to the Tour,” said White in an interview with Velonews. “That was a real catalyst for him to leave. He had a contract, but he worked his way out of it. He wasn’t on our radar for 2021, and we are the benefactors of that.”
It has been described as a homecoming for Matthews, returning to the squad he joined in 2013, though Matthews hasn't raced in Australia for years. His final years at the team were marred by obvious tensions between him and Simon Gerrans.
Both riders had similar ability sets, both were regarded as leaders, and that saw them clash when it came to major objectives. Most notably they sprinted against each other at the world championships in 2015 when Matthews finished second and Gerrans sixth, when perhaps a concerted chase by Gerrans of lone leader Peter Sagan may have secured a Matthews' rainbow jersey.
“Bling left on good terms,” White said. “It was difficult for him with Gerrans there. He was young and improving fast, and he wanted more opportunities. It was a bit toxic there because both were very similar riders. ‘Gerro’ was very protective of his turf.”
Matthews has built an impressive palmares during his career, but as yet he hasn't won a monument, and White is keen to see his Australian charge change that statistic in one of the biggest races of the season.
“We think he could podium in all of them,” White said. “He’s a big addition for our Flemish roster, and for the Ardennes as well. I think he could even win Lombardia in the right circumstances. The worlds is a big target for him as well. If he’s healthy and training hard, we believe he can get some very big results.”