A huge crash caught up many of the favourites at about 100km to go and, while initially the Australian rider thought he may be able to get through unscathed, he soon joined the likes of World Champion Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) on the ground.
“We came over a crest then downhill [into] a massive crosswind,” said Matthews. ”I was actually okay and avoiding some of the crashes and then someone ran into me really fast from behind and flipped me over my handlebars, so that was my Strade Bianche done which I’m really disappointed about.”
The wind was gusting as the race hit the fifth sector of gravel then part way through – as the Lucignano d’Asso section became exposed – chaos ensued with the falls beginning right near the front of the field. Even those that escaped the large crash were not safe, with solo riders also caught out as the wind whipped by and threw them off balance.
“I think the wind today was probably not normal for this area,” said Matthews. “We were just a bit unlucky in that section. Wrong place at the right time, unfortunately.”
For Matthews it meant another hiccup in a season which has already been hampered by COVID-19, with the rider returning at Strade Bianche after having not lined up since January.
“It would have been really a good result today. I was really looking forward to it. Feeling really good in the race, so just disappointed,” said Matthews.
“I’d love to still be in the race but I’m sitting in the bus with probably stitches in my chin and stitches in my knee, so not the greatest day.”
It’s taken so long for the rider, who is in his 12th year as a WorldTour professional, to race Strade Bianche as usually his focus at this time of year has been on preparations for Paris-Nice. This time, though, Dylan Groenewegen will be spearheading the team’s sprint hopes at the French race, while Matthews was planning to stay in Italy for Tirreno-Adriatico, starting Monday.
There was no mention of whether or not his injuries would interfere with those plans. One thing we do know, however, is that while Matthews first Strade Bianche didn’t go tot plan, it won’t be his last.
“I’ll be back next year,” said Matthews in an Instagram post.