Australian cycling star Michael Matthews believes he’s reprised the story of his distinguished career with one epic triumph of rare courage and heart at the Tour de France.
The man from Canberra, known throughout cycling as “Bling” for his love of shiny baubles, produced his most glittering victory on Saturday on an exhausting, undulating 192.5km slog from Saint Etienne to Mende.
Matthews, who last won on the Tour five years ago, improved on his two previous second-place finishes in the 2022 edition, breaking the spirit of all his challengers on a baking day when temperatures topped 40 degrees celsius.
It also put an emphatic end to the drought of wins for the prolific Australian, who had not saluted since March last year.
His incredible fourth Tour victory and his 39th career win came after the 31-year-old initiated his break for home from some 52km out and, overhauled in the last few kilometres, fought back astonishingly when all seemed lost in a duel on a sharp ascent to the line.
“I think it is pretty much the story of my career. I’ve had so many roller coasters, up and down, but my wife, my daughter, they keep believing in me,” Matthews said, after being dropped on the final climb and then fighting back to beat Italian Alberto Bettiol in a thrilling finale.
“How many times I’ve been smashed down and got back up – this was for my daughter today. She’s four years old and I wanted to show her this is why I’m away all the time, this is what I do it for,” said the emotional star of Australian outfit Bike Exchange-Jayco.
“I’ve always come up second best, third best, top three, top 10 in the last couple of years. I’ve been consistent, which is good – but you need to win,” reflected Matthews, who’d lost out agonisingly on victories on the sixth and eighth stages in close sprint finishes. “My wife told me if you want to win you have to try something new.”
So, that’s exactly what he did. Part of a 23-man breakaway, the rider more famed for winning bunch sprints on punchy stages set out on his own unlikely solo attack.
He was joined by three others but, ultimately, it came down to two, with Bettiol roaring from the chasers past Matthews on the Cote de la Croix Neuve, a short, punishing 3km ascent with gradients of more than 10 per cent.
But Matthews wouldn’t break, somehow clawing back onto Bettiol’s wheel with 2km left before pounding clear on the flatter finale to win by 15 seconds, with Frenchman Thibaut Pinot finishing third.
“When Bettiol passed me I thought about my wife and my father who sacrifice so much for me, we don’t get to see each other much,” said Matthews. “I hope they’re proud of me.”
Matthews’ victory was the second by an Australian rider on this Tour, with Simon Clarke having also triumphed on an equally breathtaking cobbled stage five from Lille to Arenberg.
Behind, Jonas Vingegaard covered an attack from champion Tadej Pogacar to retain the yellow jersey, as the top two earned more seconds over their nearest pursuers. “I tried and I will try again in the coming days,” Pogacar promised.
Denmark’s Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) still has a two minute, 22 second lead over Slovenian Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). Vingegaard still leads Pogacar by 2min 22sec overall, with former champion Geraint Thomas in third, now 2:43 off the pace after dropping 17 seconds.
Australia’s leader in the GC remains Matthews’ teammate Nick Schultz, in 34th, 66:28 behind.
July 17, 2022 at 11:22AM Australian Associated Press