It’s time to talk about Australia and in particular Michael Matthews. The current cycling calendar starts with an Australian flavour and I’m sure the Aussies heading to Bergen would love to put their country back in the spotlight at the end of the year.
Despite remaining a comparatively small nation against the giants of road cycling, Australia have had some serious success at the end of season party; Cadel Evans, Allan Davis, Matty Goss, Simon Gerrans and Matthews have all been on the podium since 2009.
Bold and clear tactics will usually lead to Australia joining the fight for control. There’s often a real togetherness about the Australians… if you ignore the 2015 race where Matthews and Gerrans always looked likely of locking horns and sprinted against each other as Peter Sagan soloed to victory.
The two were hardly ever on the same page but that won’t be a problem this year as Gerrans is absent from the World’s squad for the second year running. Speaking of which…
Who’s on the plane?
You’ll be glad to know the Australian selectors have decided to bring a full nine riders to the men’s road race! Despite a depth of talent, Cycling Australia initially left two spots unfilled when announcing their selection for the women’s race. Inexplicably, Claire Hosking – ranked top ten in the World – was left at home but promptly appealed. Cycling Australia would eventually call her up along with Rachel Neylan. Bizarre.
This isn’t to say the men’s roster has been without controversy. There’s a place for Bahrain’s forgotten man Heinrich Haussler who has completed just ten race days this year and four since May!
He’s joined by Simon Clarke, Mitchell Docker, Luke Durbridge, Jack Haig, Mathew Hayman, Jay McCarthy and Rory Sutherland.
There’s some big engines in that list but there can be no doubt over Australia’s leader. Matthews has come 14th, 2nd and 4th at the last three World Championships and the soon-to-be 27 year old has been brilliant this year.
This Australian squad will get behind Matthews; it’s almost as if the selectors have avoided picking anybody who could even slightly rock the boat. Where’s Nathan Haas!?
Michael Matthews 12/1
The Tour de France green jersey winner is 12/1 making him the fifth favourite with most bookmakers. Close finishes alongside Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet in the recent Canadian events make this is a fairly attractive price.
Matthews has almost reached an equal footing with cycling’s magnificent duo. He hasn’t yet mastered the cobbles but he’s been climbing superbly and is never short of speed. He’s converting more and more opportunities – two at the Tour – and was a member of the winning Sunweb squad in Sunday’s Team Time Trial. It’s fair to say his confidence will be at an all-time high; let’s not forget he bested Sagan from a small bunch in Revel at the 2016 Tour.
I think the Bergen circuit will suit Matthews with Salmon Hill ridding the peloton of a few faster finishers. No Gerrans and no Caleb Ewan mean Matthews will be riding with an extremely focussed squad. It’s a great price for such a consistent rider. I’m on board!
Jay McCarthy 400/1
You’ll have to scroll down your page to spot another Australian in the road race market. I was actually looking for Luke Durbridge when I came across Bora’s Jay McCarthy at a lofty 400/1.
A lively third at the Tour Down Under, it’s fair to say McCarthy front-loaded his season. Nevertheless, he ticks several boxes for the Bergen course. He’s happy in the hills and took on many of this year’s favourites when finishing 19th at the Amstel Gold Race.
It would have to be a crazy race for McCarthy to end up leading the Australian charge but if Matthews were to crash out, McCarthy’s odds would surely plummet!
I don’t think Matthews needs to be scared of the riders ahead of him in the betting. He’ll enjoy a big bunch split but Australia don’t need to ride for one.
As things begin to heat up on the final two circuits I’d like to see Australia take control. Whilst the likes of Belgium, France and Italy will almost certainly send a rider off the front, I believe Australia will ride for a sprint and serve up the best possible opportunity to Matthews.
I’m a little worried that their big men won’t enjoy the many metres of climbing and Matthews may be left fighting for himself. Perhaps climber Jack Haig will end up an unlikely leadout man!
The finale could very easily come down to Matthews vs. Sagan and ‘Bling’ has what it takes to deny the Slovakian a famous hat-trick!