One lunge and a few millimetres of rubber at best; that was the winning difference for Matthew Richardson and his debut season UCI Track Champions League championship.
After five rounds, four weekends, and 10 back-and-forth keirin and sprint contests between the 23-year-old Australian Cycling Team star and 11-time world champion Harrie Lavreysen, it was Richardson with the last say at the 2022 grand finale in London.
Down one point in the overall standings to Lavreysen after losing the sprint final earlier in the night, the Western Australian rallied hard to pip the Dutchman at the line in the sprint league’s final keirin lap of the season.
What followed was the uncorking of pure elation from Richardson, who four weeks ago had never beaten Lavreysen head-to-head and had now come out on top of a see-sawing points battle to remember.
Trailing the world champion by a point entering the final race, it was a must-win for 🇦🇺 @matty_richo!— SBS Sport (@SBSSportau) December 4, 2022
The champion men's sprinter UCI Track Champions League after a titanic struggle with Harrie Lavreysen over five rounds! Watch here: https://t.co/yAufhJVmQD#sbscycling #UCITCL pic.twitter.com/AaAgLeoF7I
“It feels surreal to have won the 2022 UCI Track Champions League,” Richardson said.
“I knew it was going to be close between Harrie (Lavreysen) and me coming into the end, but it couldn’t have come any closer than that.
“It was literally going to come down to who finished in front of who, literally couldn’t get any closer and it was another one-two.
“The whole series has been an intense four weekends, so it’s a relief that I can put my feet up now.
THE CHAMP 🏆— AusCyclingTeam (@AusCyclingTeam) December 6, 2022
2022 @UCITCL Men’s Sprint League title signed, sealed and delivered for @Matty__Richo in the final lap of the season! 🔥
📸 @UCITCL#UCITCL · #AusCyclingTeam · @AusCyclingAus pic.twitter.com/v0ECmAn2GA
“This win is super important, and it means a lot to me.”
Faced with a myriad of tactical choices to make in the deciding keirin final, Richardson said he “took a bit of a chance” to claim the win.
“I originally wanted to put as much distance between me and Harrie as possible like I did the day before, but the fast boys were all in front, so I figured I’d let them have a play and I’ll try come around in the last corner,” Richardson said.
“So that’s pretty much what I went for.”
Richardson’s championship celebrations were a stark contrast to sitting on his Adelaide couch during the league’s inaugural season last year.
A matter of fact brought about by travel restrictions, but the new Australian sprinting sensation didn’t let that faze him.
“Me and Tom (Cornish) were peeling each other out of bed at 3am trying to watch the thing and we absolutely enjoyed it,” Richardson said.
“And then to be in a position to win it this year is something I couldn’t have imagined at 3am on my couch.”
2023 beckons with heightened expectations for Richardson as one of the two fastest men in the track sprinting world.
But it’s those expectations that provide added motivation for a man that relishes rivalries.
“It’s people like Harrie that really get the best out of everybody and now maybe people like me (as well),” Richardson said.
“I’ve had Matt Glaetzer to train with in Australia and it’s been the biggest blessing I possibly could have ever had.
“He’s such a phenomenal athlete and to have someone like that in training is absolutely incredible and now to have someone that close in racing is just awesome.
“It’s been every single race and I hope we can just push each other on to be some of the best track sprinters in the world.”
Australia’s Chloe Moran also tasted success on the final night of the 2022 UCI Track Champions League, winning the opening race of the night and the first of her women’s endurance league career in the scratch race.
The 24-year-old outsprinted Canadian Sarah Van Dam at the front of the race to win by half a lap ahead of the main bunch.
Chloe Moran takes the win of the Women's Scratch Race. But the other battle within this race was the one between Katie Archibald & Jennifer Valente. The British took 2 points back on the American. The Elimination Race will be decisive 👀 #UCITCL #TrackCycling pic.twitter.com/QXdNiS6GnY— UCI Track Champions League (@UCITCL) December 3, 2022
Moran’s 20 points from the scratch race win elevated her to 11th in the overall standings.
Fellow Australian Cycling Team teammate Thomas Cornish ended the season 15th in the men’s sprint league.