Keep backing “Bling” on these courses – that’s the strong message from the Australian men after a big team ride at the world road cycling championships.
Michael Matthews capped an all-round performance from the home nation when he won bronze in the elite men’s road race on the last day of the Wollongong worlds.
It continues the 31-year-old’s strong record at the road worlds, starting with the gold medal in the under-23 road race at the 2010 event in Geelong.
Matthews, nicknamed Bling, since had won bronze and silver in the elite road race before Sunday, while on Wednesday he also took bronze as part of the mixed team relay.
But the naming of the team generated controversy, with AusCycling selectors opting for Matthews and not sprint ace Caleb Ewan.
As it turned out, Belgian Remco Evenepoel was a cut above everyone with his solo attack that secured the world title.
But Matthews’ second place in the bunch sprint for the minor medals – Christophe Laporte of France won silver – was reward for an impressive Australian performance.
“He really deserves a world championship. At the pinnacle of any sport it’s not easy,” veteran Australian rider Simon Clarke said of Matthews.
“We just have to keep chipping away and we can only do our best.
“For the moment, he’s Australia’s best in these kind of races and we need really need to support him and not doubt him.
“We went in today with full support and I don’t think there’s anyone else who could have gone close to his result today.”
The Australians were attentive throughout the race, covering all the key moves.
Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley was with Evenepoel when the Belgian made his decisive attack, but so were several other strong riders.
“If it was only just Jai that got dropped, you’d maybe ask the question, but if Remco’s riding away from everyone …,” Clarke noted.
The Matthews bunch came from nowhere, gobbling up a chase group in the last kilometre and powering to the finish two minutes 21 seconds behind Evenepoel.
“I don’t know exactly where I finished – I found out a couple of minutes that I was actually third,” said Matthews, who added it felt as good as a win.
“I just knew we had a really good team performance today and I just wanted to finish it off for Australia on home soil, see where I ended up.”