Michael Matthews has won bronze at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships, powering home in an unfathomable sequence of events that ended with a sprint finish for minor placings in Wollongong.
Matthews rounded the final corner at a jampacked Wollongong foreshore completely unaware of the race situation at hand and what was at stake. But he went all-in, finishing behind Frenchman Christophe Laporte in a select group containing several of the world’s most versatile sprinters.
The Canberran had to wait nearly a minute for confirmation of his podium placing – an achievement that had seemed inconceivable when the bell lap sounded less than 30 minutes earlier, while Remco Evenepoel was on his way to a solo victory and three chase groups remained between him and the peloton.
“We were sort of talking in the peloton if we were still racing for anything because we didn’t know exactly where anyone was and it’s really difficult to get information in a World Championship,” Matthews said.
“There was still attacking on the final climb up Mount Pleasant, so the race was still on.
“And then we just sort of kept catching bunches towards even the last 500 metres of the race.
“I think we were still not even sprinting for top-10, but then I saw the French team lining up for Laporte for the lead-out for him and I jumped on the back of that and did my thing in the sprint.
“But even afterwards I didn’t know exactly where I finished.
“Found out a couple of minutes later that I was actually third.”
It was a day to remember for a smorgasbord of reasons for the Australian team. Matthews’ last-ditch efforts to win World Championship bronze was the perfect curtain-closer to a special day for all eight of the elite men's squad.
Matthews was quick to pay tribute to the efforts of his teammates. Lucas Plapp, Ben O’Connor and Jai Hindley had all been heavily active in multiple compositions of splits and breakaways, either at the front of the race or chasing it.
“We expected an attack on (Mount) Keira – it happened,” Matthews said.
“We had three guys in that bunch, so that took a lot of pressure off us guys behind and we could just sit on and wait for other guys to chase.
“Later on in the race, Jai went with another move, which was really good and saved me from having to do that and saved me for the last two laps to just do my thing and save the podium in the last 500 metres.
“I just knew we had a great team performance today, and I just wanted to finish it off for Australia on home soil just to see where I would end up.
“Whether it was fifth, 10th, 15th – it didn’t really matter.
“I just wanted to finish off the best way I could, and it was for a podium in the end, so, that was definitely great.”
The bronze is the Canberran’s third Elite Road Race World Championship medal of his career, and his second medal for the Wollongong 2022 campaign after a successful Team Team Trial Mixed Relay performance earlier in the week.
The 31-year-old said he ranked today's honour as the best among his now three elite road race medals.
“I’ve been second before, but that second was also quite a long way away like this (bronze) one was,” Matthews said.
“The level of cycling at the moment is so high.
“It’s incredible to be up here with this bronze medal.
“Obviously, we came here for the rainbow stripes on home soil but coming away with a third place definitely feels like a win.”
Photos: Getty Sport