If I know anything about Michael, I know the disappointment will be fuel.
Matthews has a history of exceeding expectations. If he had been able to race in July, I’d say he would have done exactly what he has always done when given the call up to the next level as a cyclist: shock and awe.
When mum first met Michael’s mum Donna at some junior cycling event in Canberra, she told me to look out for Michael.
She meant it in a “make sure the other boys aren’t mean to him” kind of way but what she should have been saying was “watch out, this kid will set the cycling world on fire.”
I don’t think I particularly looked out for him and I think he was beating me within a month.
Since then Michael taught us never to underestimate him. Every level he has stepped up to in his career he has mastered immediately.
His ability was always obvious, but the results were still always a shock. First Australian championships in U17? Won solo. U23 road worlds champs in Geelong? Won that. First Tour Down Under as a pro? Stirling stage: tick. First ever Grand Tour? Two Vuelta stages: easy. Next Grand Tour? Stage win in the Giro leaders jersey, which he wore for six days.
Another kid’s dad, Reg, first called Michael ‘Bling’ because he appeared like some kind of rockstar. It stuck. It fits.
Bling put rims on his white SUV at 18 and at 21 he moved to Monaco. Now grown up, the nickname has a very different meaning.
Mick’s Bling is no longer the showy flamboyant style of Mick the kid, it’s the sheer accomplishment of Mick the young man. The bling is now the leader’s jerseys and gold medals being draped constantly around his neck.
At this year’s Giro everyone was in awe of Michaels performance on the climbs and against the elements. They knew the familiar spark and the speed but few saw that kind of mature, all-round performance coming. “And from a sprinter!” they said.
The people who know Michael well however, are harder to shock; nothing would surprise us at all. Now we’ve all seen him climb and sprint. He has shown that he can time trial too given the need and on his first attempt he showed that he comes out at the end of a 3-week race like it’s a holiday on the beach.
It’s hard to say which direction Michael’s goals will take him, and on what timeline. At the moment he doesn’t seem to be chasing overall Grand Tour victories but I can guaranteed you there’s more to the guy than a few stages here and there.
This year Mick was geared up for the Tour, a race in which he will play a big part in years to come. Through misfortune he’s had to deflect that progression through La Vuelta.
Do not underestimate what he’s capable of in Spain.
When my mum told me she thought he could win the Tour de France she reasoned: “Why not? He’s won everything else, and he’s so young nobody know’s what he’ll be like in another five years.”
There is obviously an element of mum-bias in this analysis. No less, I think it is a surprisingly valid argument.
The currently silent and vacant sporting landscape has brought on much reflection. Many Australian competitions appear likely to go to ruin in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns around what our sporting face will look like in a few months are genuine.
Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.