Aussie Focus

Can Matthews hold yellow in the TT?

Aussie Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) clawed his way into the leader's yellow jersey at Paris-Nice overnight but now faces the 'race of truth' to hold it against a number of top talents in the time trial.

79th Paris - Nice 2021 - Stage 2

Michael Matthews of Team BikeExchange in yellow after Stage 2 of Paris-Nice Source: Getty

The Course

Stage 3 of Paris-Nice is an individual time trial of 14.4 kilometres starting and finishing in the town of Gien. The route is mostly flat, although the finish offers a sting in the tail, the finish line lies atop a 400 metre-climb at 6.3 per cent.

The first two kilometres are flat before the route starts to run slightly uphill. On a wide road, the riders climb for one kilometre at 3.8 per cent. There are a few technical sections of the course, with the route continuing mostly on the flat until a nasty kick up at 6.3 per cent will challenge the fatiguing legs of the riders.

Last year, Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) won the Paris-Nice ITT on a slightly longer route over 15.1 kilometres.

The wind should remain relatively sedate throughout the stage, with riders attacking a cross-headwind for the main section of the course before turning into a tailwind for the run to the finish.

Paris-Nice, Stage 3 profile
Paris-Nice Stage 3 TT profile Source: ASO

The Contenders

How well can Michael Matthews time-trial? He's really quite good. He also has 14 seconds to play with to the majority of the field, and premier time-triallists in Australians Rohan Dennis (INEOS Grenadiers) and Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) have conceded time in the early stages.

Matthews' best results against the clock are in prologues and shorter time trials, his longest win against the clock was over 8.8 kilometres at the Tour of Slovenia back in 2014. Around that ten kilometre mark is approximately the distance where the time-trial specialists begin to pull away from the short-power specialists like sprinters and puncheurs, so Matthews will likely find a few too strong for him here. 

Nonetheless, he's been right up there in recent years when he's had something to fight for in the race against the clock, he was 18 seconds off in the 15.1-kilometre 2020 Paris-Nice time-trial behind then-teammate Soren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) for seventh on the stage. Over similar distances, we've seen him finish third, one second behind Dennis in a 9.5km TT at the Tour de Suisse in 2019, 15th in the same race over 19.2km, 42 seconds adrift.

That gives a good idea of the potential range for Matthews, he can't be discounted from finishing right up there, even in a quality field like the one here, or it could be a case of shipping 2-3 seconds a kilometre to the winner. The latter would still be a good performance, but won't be enough to hold yellow, he'll have to be within a second per kilometre slower than the fastest riders over this 14.4 kilometre course.

Closest to Matthews at present in the general classification is Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), just four seconds in arrears of the Aussie. Pedersen profiles as a similar calibre time-triallist to Matthews, more-suited to shorter tests against the clock, but he does also boast a 19.2km TT win ahead of Wout van Aert back in 2018.

TT exponents Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Nils Politt (BORA-hansgrohe) both snuck a second's advantage at the intermediate sprints and are 13 seconds behind the yellow jersey. Lampaert put 42 seconds into Matthews in that Tour de Suisse TT victory referenced above, if he can produce similar form here then he'll be right up with a chance at taking over the lead.

The majority of the bunch - the ones that haven't taken any time bonuses or lost any time - are sitting at 14 seconds in arrears of Matthews' race lead. In no particular order Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Matthias Brandle (Israel Start-Up Nation), Max Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe), Jos Van Emden, Primoz Roglic (both Jumbo-Visma), Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Kragh Andersen, Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-ASSOS) and Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo) all have it within their grasp to produce a winning TT.

If you had to pick some of those names out, you'd go with Bisegger for his powerhouse recent performance behind Ganna at the UAE TT and Roglic for his strongly rumoured top form that he's been hitting in training recently.

For those behind the group at 14 seconds, it will be too hard to gain enough time to topple Matthews and the others ahead but one ride to follow for sure will be Rohan Dennis gunning for the stage honours.

Strange to say, but it's been 531 days since Dennis last took a win against the clock. Without Italian world champion Filippo Ganna present at the race, the Australian two-time world champion in the time trial will go into the race as the favourite. When he's been beaten, it's only by the best in the world and with the way he prepares meticulously for each performance he's rightly strongly-backed coming in here.

Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) will also be looking at a potential stage win. He wasn't at his best at nationals after rushing in late due to border restrictions but was in red-hot form otherwise early in the year. The difficulty for 'Turbo Durbo' is converting that southern form into racing in Europe, and bad luck and injuries have dogged that process as well in the past. 

With 14 kilometres of mostly flat roads and a short climb to finish, that seems like a very nice course for the Australian to show off his renowned power.

Other Aussies will looking to give the race a nudge, Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ) was fifth in the final stage TT at the 2020 Giro, while Alex Edmondson (Team BikeExchange) can produce special rides against the clock as well.

General classification contenders Jai Hindley (Team DSM), Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange), Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and Ben O'Connor (AG2R-Citroen) will be trying to mitigate the damage to Roglic before the race heads into the hills and mountains in the following stages.

Watch the action from the TT from 12.15am AEDT on SBS HD and SBS On Demand tonight as the 'race of truth' gets its chance to shape the outcome of Paris-Nice!

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6 min read
Published 9 March 2021 at 1:28pm
By Jamie Finch-Penninger