Should Orica-Scott have done more to keep Michael Matthews?

Alistair Nitz Roar Rookie

By Alistair Nitz, Alistair Nitz is a Roar Rookie

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    Michael Matthews will have to fall off his bike not to ride into Paris on Sunday wearing the green jersey.

    He will be the first Australian to win the prestigious sprinters’ jersey since Robbie McEwen in 2006. He will also become only the third Australian to wear green onto the Champs Elysees.

    Matthews, at 26 years old, still has not hit his prime, so it is unlikely to be the last time he will celebrate a points classification jersey at a Grand Tour.

    It certainly marks a huge year for Matthews’ Team Sunweb, of Germany. Matthews’ expected green jersey win comes less than two months after Tom Dumoulin won the maglia rosa (pink jersey) for taking out the first Grand Tour of the year, the Giro d’Italia.

    It is not hard to think that if things had gone differently in 2016 or Orica-Scott objectives did not change, then Matthews could have been celebrating in the Aussie team’s jersey and not Team Subweb.

    Matthews is one of Australia’s best and most exciting cyclists. He won the under 23 road race championships in Geelong in 2010 and won a WorldTour stage race in his first year (Tour Down Under in 2011).

    Matthews’ potential and early career results were the reasons Orica-GreenEDGE Cycling (Orica-Scott) signed him on a multi-year contract from Rabobank for the 2013 season. At the time, Matthew White, Orica-Scott’s race director, said Matthews had untapped potential for the future.

    It did not take long for Matthews to repay Orica-Scott, winning several stages in the Vuelta de Espana and also briefly holding the green jersey in his first year. But the big break occurred in 2014, when he was part of the winning team to take out the team time trial at the Giro, sending Matthews into the leader’s jersey.

    He held that jersey until stage seven, after winning his first individual stage – stage six. Matthews followed up in 2015, winning again at the Giro and also finding himself in the maglia rosa.

    Even though Matthews was a prodigious talent, things started to unravel in late 2015, as a damaging rift developed between himself and Simon Gerrans at the world road championships in Richmond, USA.

    A race that Matthews thought he could have won if the Australian team worked for one rider rather than being split between Gerrans and himself, in a post-race interview with Cyclingnews.com, Matthews openly criticised his older teammate. Matthews felt at the time that if Gerrans had worked for Matthews, he could have beaten Peter Sagan.

    From the fan’s perspective, Orica-Scott did not manage this rift well. Management gave both riders different race programs, hoping that time would heal old wounds. Both riders finally found themselves on the same team by the Ardennes Classics, where old wounds opened quickly and their lack of cohesion was clearly on display during the Amstel Gold race, even though the team put both riders in a potentially winning position.

    Rumours of the rift continued right through to the Tour de France and during the race itself. There were doubts whether team management would even select both riders.

    Orica-Scott has been one of the leading teams since joining the WorldTour in 2011. It has had enormous success at one-day races and the shorter stage races, with riders winning key Spring classics, like Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo, and stages at each of the Grand Tours.

    Esteban Chaves and the Yates twins showed their general classification potential as race leaders throughout the 2016 season. In fact, Chaves lost the maglia rosa on the penultimate stage because of a stunning ride by Vincenzo Nibali, the eventual winner.

    After narrowly missing out on winning the Giro, management started to think that GC success was just around the corner. The team was no longer satisfied by just winning stages at the biggest races of the year, seeing objectives for 2017 and beyond shift.

    The ultimate goal was to win a Grand Tour and, in particular, the holy grail – le Tour de France.

    Preparations for a full tilt at the Tour started in August 2016, with the recruitment of riders that were strong domestiques to support Chaves and the Yates twins.

    Matthews was certainly aware of the changing direction. He also would have been aware of the problems that Mark Cavendish faced at Team Sky when he wanted to win the green jersey while the team was focused on Bradley Wiggins’ yellow jersey ambitions.

    Rumours swirled around the 2016 Tour de France that Matthews was leaving Orica-Scott. The on-going rift with Gerrans and the team’s Tour ambitions would have restricted Matthews’ opportunities in 2017. Orica-Scott did not have the depth to support his green jersey ambitions and attempt to win the GC title with Chaves.

    On 4 August 2016, Giant-Alpecin (now Team Sunweb) announced it had signed Matthews on a three-year contract. In the press release, Matthews alluded to the lack of support and cooperation that he experienced at Orica-Scott. “I have always admired the way the team [ed. Team Sunweb] approaches the sport as a team sport; the stronger and the better we can have the team as a collective operate and perform, the better the opportunities for success the leaders have for the finales of races,” Matthews said.

    collaboration by Greenedge Cycling with a number of parties, including the Chinese Cycling Association and Cycling Australia

    (AP Photo/Miguel Angel Morenatti)

    Matthews even told Velonews after his tour de France stage 14 win that he had to leave Orica-Scott to search for opportunities, saying, “I changed to this team, Sunweb, was because they were willing to give me a lot of guys to support me in races like this.”

    Matthew went on to say that “Orica had different goals, so I decided to come here where I’ll get a lot of opportunities.”

    Unfortunately for Orica-Scott, its lofty ambitions have fallen well short in 2017. They only won one stage at the Giro and look like coming up empty at the Tour de France.

    Orica-Scott has never really threatened the GC standings at the first two Grand Tours of the year. The team directors and management will no doubt complete a review to analyse what went wrong at the end of the season. Based on the results of the first two Grand Tours, the team has a lot of work to do before it will be capable of winning the Tour or the Giro.

    In hindsight, fans and sponsors will question whether Orica-Scott’s pursuit of Grand Tour success came at the expense of other achievable objectives, like stage wins and classification jerseys. It could have been Orica-Scott winning the green jersey with Matthews, giving sponsors huge exposure.

    What was the rush for Orica-Scott to win the Tour? Many teams in the peloton are fully aware that they cannot win such a prestigious race, so they focus on stage wins and classification jerseys. Teams like Bora-Hansgrohe, UAE Emirates and Team Dimension Data focused on such smaller objectives.

    The search of a Grand Tour victory by Orica-Scott would have been different if they were trying to put an Australian on the top spot of the podium, but none of the potential GC candidates are from Australia. It seems strange that an Aussie team with no principal sponsors from England or Colombia would be throwing the kitchen sink at trying to win cycling’s biggest prize.

    It seems Matthews was sacrificed by the team in the search for the holy grail of road cycling. But, so far, it is only Michael Matthews that is cheering at the end of July.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • Roar Rookie

      July 23rd 2017 @ 5:24am
      Jon said | July 23rd 2017 @ 5:24am | ! Report

      Poor Orica-Scott. If only they had a rider who has all but won a jersey and wore it for 15 stages. There will be no smiles for them tomorrow night. Why didn’t they have a goal to achieve for this tour?

      Ha everything gone their way this season? No. They couldn’t predict Chaves would have a serious knee injury or that Adam Yates would be involved in a crash with a moto during the Giro that would hamper his push for a top 5 & young riders jersey. They definitely couldn’t see what happened in the Green jersey in the tour with those major contenders falling out of the tour. Plus if Bling did stay at Orica there is no guarantee that he’d have won the green anyway.

      Orica-Scott currently has three riders who can ride to top 10 finishes in GTs. They have had a rider in the top 10 of the last 6 (counting this TDF) GTs, which include 2 podiums and 2 jerseys. They are pushing for the GC because they currently can give it a good shake. Just because they aren’t Australian doesn’t mean they should be treated as 2nd class riders in the team.

      Unfortunately this did mean that Bling’s own GT aspirations had to be pushed aside. Only way he could have really stayed with the team and been content is if he turned his focus away from the GTs. Anything else would have been frustrating for him. Leaving was the right move for him and even with his success it was probably the right move for Orica as well.

    • July 23rd 2017 @ 7:44am
      Scuba said | July 23rd 2017 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      Peter Sagan is only 27. Good on Matthews for seizing his opportunity with both hands but I doubt he’ll be presented with too many opportunities in the future as good as this one.

      • Roar Guru

        July 24th 2017 @ 12:18pm
        delbeato said | July 24th 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

        Matthews is good enough to challenge Sagan on his day.

    • July 23rd 2017 @ 10:22am
      Andrew Browne said | July 23rd 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      Orica have won the White jersey this Tour, pretty decent outcome as Chavez was clearly not ready for a GC after his illness. Matthews has done great and had the luck to win the Green after Sagan’s DQ and Kittels crash. Not sure why the author needs to take pot shots at Orica for attempting to win a GT. Ambition should be celebrated.

      • July 23rd 2017 @ 2:28pm
        Alistair Nitz said | July 23rd 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

        I had a crack at Orica because I think that they effectively pushed out Matthews for GC glory. That clearly has not worked. Sure, the white jersey is a good result. But Orica has done worse than last year. Adam Yates finished fourth in a field that still included Pinot, Valverde and Porte.

        • July 24th 2017 @ 8:26am
          Eugene said | July 24th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

          It’s two-fold. They have 3 climbers that aren’t quite GC contenders. They’re honestly too small and will lose too much time on mountain stages that don’t have mountain finishes, TT stages, rolling stages, etc. They are also grooming Caleb Ewan to be more of a pure sprinter than Michael Matthews will ever be. Matthews’s departure was the right move for both parties.

        • Roar Guru

          July 24th 2017 @ 12:20pm
          delbeato said | July 24th 2017 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

          Someone was saying (Keenan, McEwen?) that Orica chose Gerrans because Gerrans had essentially carried Orica singlehandedly for so long. Clearly Gerro is on the decline and Orica knew that, but wanted to show him loyalty. I think Orica were in a no-win situation there. If they’d discarded Gerro – the only other option – they would have rightly earned a lot of criticism for being ruthless.

    • July 23rd 2017 @ 12:01pm
      twodogs said | July 23rd 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

      I’ve had a bad flu and have been laid up this week and have watched a lot of this tour. I’ve come to a conclusion. I’ve gotta go to France to those beautiful country villages and the scenery. Or even live there!
      Congrats Michael. I cannot understand how they can recocer from the toeture of those mountain climbs. Must be mad😆

    • July 23rd 2017 @ 1:35pm
      Brissie Bay said | July 23rd 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

      Cheers for the article Alistair, always good to get any coverage about cycling on the Roar and especially from someone who watches cycling all year round rather than just the Tour.

      Will be especially interested to see what Sunweb’s plan is for Matthews at next year’s Tour with Dumoulin reportedly interested in going for GC and Barguil, having finished with the KOM, two stage wins and Top 10 overall, also wanting a crack at team leadership and a high finish on GC. Might see Barguil head back to a French squad with either FDJ or potentially one of the continental teams (Fortuneo-Oscaro, Cofidis or Direct Energie).

      • July 23rd 2017 @ 2:25pm
        Alistair Nitz said | July 23rd 2017 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the feedback. It was a very interesting article by Rupert Guiness suggesting that Matthews may be part of the Dumoulin team for a crack at Le Tour push next year. I certainly think is is very capable in that role. But I am sure he will want to defend his jersey. I can certainly see the french teams wanting Barguil in their team. Will he leave? Good question.

    • Roar Guru

      July 23rd 2017 @ 8:03pm
      Sam Brown said | July 23rd 2017 @ 8:03pm | ! Report

      It hasn’t gone as well as they hoped this year for sure but as another poster commented they have had bad luck with crashes and injuries.

      I think the split was for the best of both Orica & Matthews, if Orica wants to aim for a GC victory they have to be single minded, Sky cannot be beaten by a team divided and having Matthews there is a liability when they want to win, letting Matthews go frees up a GT position and a chunk of money they can use on a support rider.

      For Matthews he is good enough that he should get support and have a chance to go after the green jersey and stage wins and was obviously frustrated that he couldn’t get it with Orica.

      As for your criticism of Orica’s GC ambitions I completely disagree. Primarily they have have the rider to do it in Chavez. He has ridden 5 Grand Tours and got on the podium in 2 and top 5 in another and picked up 3 stage wins, he has the ability to challenge the top absolute top riders and he is still young. This year he was injured so wasn’t ready for the Tour but Orica have taken a long term view with him.

      Conversely, Matthews has achieved above expectation at the Tour, while Orica were unlucky he had luck well and truly on his side with Sagan’s DQ and Kittel’s injury. I’d say Matthews has never looked as strong as Sagan and would have done well to be in the top 3 of the green jersey competition.

      • Roar Guru

        July 24th 2017 @ 12:22pm
        delbeato said | July 24th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

        I agree on Chaves being a legitimate GT contended. I think the Yates brothers show good indications of being the same, given time to develop.

        I disagree on Matthews. He is maybe not quite as strong as Sagan, but he is close. And Matthews had a great back end to the Tour. We don’t know for sure that Sagan would have.

      • July 27th 2017 @ 4:44pm
        mudjimba said | July 27th 2017 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

        +1

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