The Australian squad had Luke Durbridge in the early breakaway move of five, with the escapees going on to open an advantage of more than three minutes before the peloton began dragging them back.
As the gap began to tumble, Team BikeExchange looked to make things hard of the steep climb of Mammolshain, with Lucas Hamilton applying the pressure and dropping some within the peloton. The race then burst into life with 60km to go as Matthews attacked over the top of the climb, bridging up to Durbridge, along with Hamilton and 13 others to form a dangerous breakaway.
However, despite strong efforts from the Australians in the move, the gap back to the peloton never exceeded more than 45 seconds, with a host of teams keen to bring it back together for a sprint. Matthews and co. were recovered with just under 30 kilometres remaining, as the sprint teams readied themselves for the fast finish.
BikeExchange were prominent in the final kilometres, occupying a position near the front, with Luka Mezgec surging to the head of the field underneath the one kilometre to go banner with Matthews in tow, but as the sprint opened up, the Australian didn't have the legs to follow the best, finishing ninth overall behind winner Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix).
“We obviously wanted to make it a hard race, we put Durbo in the breakaway to make sure we had someone up the road if any guys were going across," said Matthews. "Once we started the big lap, we were already firing guys up the road to make it hard for the sprinters.
"Then on the second to last lap I decided to attack and got a nice group going, but there weren’t many people wanting to work with us to help it stay away and so around 20km to go we got caught.
"In the end I had no legs left for the sprint but I gave it a go anyway and I think it’s good signs for things to come.”
Matthews is the expected team leader for the Australian team at the world championships road race, with the Flanders course expected to suit the puncheur/sprinter's abilities.