• Could've been there? Anthony Tan thinks so. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
If one considers the type of athlete the winner of the Olympic road race is, the way the race was run and won, and the composition of the top ten place-getters, Anthony Tan is convinced a certain Australian could also have been right up there.
Cycling Central
7 Aug 2016 - 9:02 PM  UPDATED 7 Aug 2016 - 9:46 PM

Before we consider what happened in Saturday's Olympic road race, can I ask you to consider this: Is Michael Matthews any less of a rider than Greg Van Avermaet?

Granted, it's a difficult question to answer in any definitive sense, as it depends on the type of race, so perhaps I should ask you this: Is Matthews, as a rider, much different to Van Avermaet?

"Matthews has always shown a precocity towards reasonably hilly stages."

The Belgian's palmar├Ęs suggests he's one for the Spring Classics but after breaking his collarbone at this year's Tour of Flanders and taking a month off before returning to competition, it seems the 31-year-old has found a new niche: medium mountain legs in stage races and similarly-profiled one-day Classics.

For me, his stage win in the undulating surrounds of the Massif Central, on the fifth stage of this year's Tour de France, was a game-changer. On a 216 kilometre day that boasted six categorised climbs and nary a metre of flat, he and Thomas de Gendt broke free of their fellow escapees 100 kilometres from the finish. Unperturbed by de Gendt's pedigree, who was enjoying his best-ever season since finishing on the podium of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, Van Avermaet chose the steepest part of the penultimate climb of the Col du Perthus (4.4km at 7.9%) to extricate himself from his fellow countryman, and duly soloed into Le Lioran and the maillot jaune, which he wore for three days.

Matthews, despite being some six years younger, has always shown a precocity towards reasonably hilly stages. His lightning-fast finish, at times on par with a pure sprinter, means that until recently, he was often (unfairly) labelled as such. The third stage of the 2011 Tour Down Under to Stirling was an early sign of things to come but as he told me later on, it also stymied his progress because "it gave me a big head".

For me, the one that really drove home how versatile he was and how good he could be was the sixth stage of the 2014 Giro. Among the company of Cadel Evans, Tim Wellens and Matteo Rabbotini he won a hilltop finish at Montecassino - a near 9km climb, and coming at the end of a 247km day in the saddle. Unless you can handle the distance and unless you can climb, you simply don't win a race like that. By the way, he was just 23 years young at the time.

Two seasons on and five and a half years into his professional career, Matthews has 25 scalps to his name; his latest the greatest, the tenth stage to Revel at this year's Tour. If the infighting between he and Simon Gerrans had been sorted out much sooner, however, he could've had a lot more. Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold Race, the road world championships... With unequivocal team support, they may already be his.

Michael Matthews move to Giant-Alpecin confirmed
Matthews has inked a three year contract with the team after four years at Australian team Orica-BikeExchange.

Another might be the Olympic Games road race.

Ever since the parcours was unveiled most pundits said it was a climber's course, one that favoured Grand Tour riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome. I didn't disagree completely, but felt it also lent itself to someone like Van Avermaet, Matthews, Rui Costa or Julian Alaphilippe, who, one their day and under the right circumstances, could be in the mix.

As it turned out, the top 10 from Saturday was comprised of a mix of Grand Tour contenders and hilly Classics specialists. It should come as no surprise that the entire first five place-getters and nine out of the top ten rode the Tour. Before the race, one man from the winning team, Tim Wellens, observed: "It is a tough course, like we were told, but it is not super-hard. The distance is of course also a determining factor. I can't quite compare it with another race.

Van Avermaet claims gold in wildly entertaining Olympics road race
Greg van Avermaet (Belgium) won a scintillating edition of the Olympics Road Race, with the race on a knife's edge for the final three circuits of the course.

"The fact that it isn't an uphill finish might cause a different type of rider to win rather than a pure climber. More riders stand a chance. If the pace isn't too high during the day, an all-rounder could win here."

An all-rounder did win.

I'm convinced that Matthews, one of the best all-rounders in the peloton today along with Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan, had the form to be there. For mine, the Australian selectors got it wrong.

Could Michael Matthews have been a contender in the Rio Olympic road race?
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