Anthony Tan recalls the day Milano-Sanremo winner Matthew Goss first made an impression on him, which gave a clue to his now eminent versatility.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

Matthew Goss' now renowned versatility first caught my attention two-and-a-half years ago.

It was in mid-October 2008, at the Herald Sun Tour in Victoria.
Winning the prelude race and opening road stage wasn't too much of a
surprise – his track background as a junior under-19 and senior team
pursuit world champion, along with a half-dozen semi-pro wins before his
neo-pro year in 2007, was proof aplenty he was fast – but it was what
he did for his then team-mate Stuart O'Grady a few days later that left
an indelible mark in my mind.

The fourth stage of the Sun Tour, a
115.4-kilometre ride from Alexandra to the top of the ski station of
Mount Buller, appeared to be a day when Goss, along with his then Team
CSC team-mates, would shelter O'Grady, as race leader, to the base of
the near 17km ascent. Then, it would be largely up to Freckles and
team-mate Lars Bak to hang on to the noted climbers and limit their
losses before the following day's time trial, which would ultimately
decide the race.

But upon reaching the base of climb Goss, 21 at
the time and until that day, had shown no sign of his climbing prowess,
did not roll off. (Perhaps in hindsight, his win at the GP Liberazione
in 2006, one of Italy's most prestigious amateur races held on a hilly
circuit on the outskirts of Rome, gave some indication, albeit
inconclusive.)

On top of the 1,600 metre climb, as I kept hearing
updates over race radio that Goss was leading the charge up the
mountain and in doing so, spitting riders out the back, I thought that
maybe the commissaires calling the shots had got it wrong – but then I
remembered Goss was wearing the green jersey as leader of the sprints
classification; impossible for even those bespectacled old codgers to
stuff up, soon placing that theory to rest.

As this photo on Cyclingnews shows (see here),
Goss continued his pace-setting for O'Grady and Bak right up till the
final kilometres. The fruits of his labour saw Bak and Stuey 1-2 on GC
by day's end; the pair reversing their positions another day later after
O'Grady won the time trial, and a day after that, his first Herald Sun
Tour.

Mount Buller, a base I used for a number of training camps
myself when I was a bike racer, is a climber's climb (I still fondly
remember setting the fastest time up there some 15 years ago, although I
was in such severe oxygen deficit, someone had to tell me about my
pyrrhic victory an hour later when I realised I hadn't died and gone to
hell). Even for a sprinter even on his best day, it's still not for him.

So
when the TV highlights rolled later that evening and confirmed it was
indeed Goss, I knew this man was something special, and would go on to
great things.

No, I won't be so full of myself and say I knew
he'd win Milano-Sanremo last Saturday and become the first Australian to
do so. But I will say I knew he was unique, and that later on, his
characteristics would resemble an alchemy of Alejandro Valverde, Laurent
Jalabert and Sean Kelly.

The way this lad from Tassie's Tamar
River seemingly shrugged off what would have been his biggest stage race
triumph at this year's Santos Tour Down Under and blamed no-one – even
though on the final day, his team botched one of the intermediate
sprints and could've done a better final lead-out, which, had he won
either, would've granted him overall victory – also says much about his
composure and maturity, which will no doubt place him in good stead in
the months and years to come.

"I guess it's a little bit of a
disappointment, but it's also not a bad result; the team rode awesome
all week and they completely supported me. I can't thank those guys
enough," were Goss' words straight after losing the TDU by two seconds
to his contemporary and countryman Cameron Meyer – who won by the
equal-closest winning margin in the race's thirteen-year history.

What
a champion in defeat. No wonder he bounced back so quickly to win a
stage in Oman and Paris-Nice before his greatest career victory to date
at La Primavera.

Are his opportunities stifled by the presence of Cavendish, who admits Goss is the only person he fears in a finish?

For now, I don't think so.

Cavendish
in fine fettle is still faster in the big bunch gallops that we see at
the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France – whereas Goss has the versatility
that more often than not precludes a rider like Cavendish contesting the
final, as he's already demonstrated with wins in Paris-Brussels (2009),
GP Plouay and Philly (2010), and podiums in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne
(2008) and Gent-Wevelgem (2009).

It is unlike the scenario we saw
with Greipel and Cavendish the previous two years, where both riders
are pure sprinters and were gunning for selection and vying for victory
in the same races. In fact, it is my belief that not having the
responsibility of outright leadership, but more shadow leadership, has
benefited Goss immensely in his formative years as a professional.

As
with all winners who thrive on the big stage and under enormous
pressure, his ambitions will only grow. Whether Goss can get faster
still to contest some of those classic Grand Tour gallops only time will
tell, and if that does happen, he'll then need to ask himself the
question: "Is my future still at HTC-High Road?"

But if he were a company on the stock exchange, the order would undoubtedly be one of buy, and buy now.