Back in 2009 Universal Sports (now NBC Sports Network) was broadcasting all sorts of live cycling, Vuelta, Giro, Classics, Velodrome plus the complete set of World Championship races. I was particularly interested in the U-23 race, on the lookout for the future talents, and sent Bob Stapleton, then the head of the HTC-Highroad pro team and now of course at the top of USA Cycling, an email with my picks for stardom.
Tony Gallopin has been incredibly aggressive in the race, and as I know his family and was a teammate of his uncle Guy, young Tony, with his beautiful style was on the list. As was a German bronze medalist in the Time Trial, a certain Marcel Kittel. No one knew that he could sprint at that point, but, again, his style on the bicycle was so fluid and pedal action so quick that you could see his enormous potential. The third recommendation was John Degenkolb, again showing terrific pedal action and speed. The German coaches in my view, had gone back to the drawing board after the Jan Ulrich calamities and the two young riders were sitting on their machines like 1970’s riders with emphasis on perfect technique rather than blood cell counts.
Undergeared, Degenkolb was beaten to the line by a powerful Michael Matthews. I didn’t pick the Aussie, writing him off as a pure sprinter who’d been hidden until the sprint unlike Degenkolb who’d been incredibly active the entire race – demonstrating the kind of depth needed in the pros. There are all sorts of amateurs who are lightning fast but lack the ability to handle the demands of the pro distances – and, incorrectly, I had Matthews in that category.
What has been interesting in watching Matthews has been his metamorphosis from pure sprinter into all an around strong man. And I think I know the reason why: he’s slightly afraid when things go nasty. There was an article in Cyclingnews where he spoke of this fear, but it became really clear to me during a helicopter shot of a points sprint earlier in the Tour. The big sprinters just pushed him around and off the wheels with ease. Can’t be a sprinter if that happens, so, into the pain cave you must go. And as yesterday’s stage showed, he’s made the transition very well, and is approaching a Sagan-like versatility, dangerous in almost any terrain.
Sunweb, having an incredible Tour coming on the heels of their Giro victory, has to be careful not to, as the French say, “chase two rabbits at once.” They’ve got Barguil in Polkadot and hunting for stages, and Matthews, while still 99 points behind Kittel in the Green contest, has a couple of Massive Central stages well suited to his abilities to try and make up the deficit. As we saw yesterday with Aru, even a slight loss of power in the Tour can have important consequences.
As I sign off on this report, both Matthews and Barguil have made their way to the lead breakaway. Got to love that Sunweb team, they’re making this Tour great.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.