Tension is high in the Avantidrome right now. With World Championship selection just two days away, everyone is eager to impress and stake their claim for a spot on the team that will head to France for the event. Nowhere in New Zealand cycling is their more competition for places though than in the men’s sprint team. The team is spoilt for choice, and world class choice at that as they look to defend their crown from last year.
When we spoke to Matt the first time he’d just won the national kilo title by less than a tenth of a second ahead of Simon van Velthooven. Despite his ability to beat the elite, the feeling of belonging with the elite has been something that’s taken a little while longer to establish. Taking bronze in the kilo time trial at the Commonwealth Games last year went a long way to helping with that, and since then the journey has just progressed. “I feel a little bit more at home as a cyclist, when you always hang around world champions, Olympians, you look at your record and think ‘I haven’t quite achieved all those things, I’ve been there or there abouts but haven’t quite done it.’ So there’s definitely a bit more confidence and you back yourself a little bit more as well,” Matt told RoadCycling.
“With our set up now with Anthony and Damian I can work on all my weaknesses and those kind of things; there are a whole lot of things that are helping the confidence, also having those expertise day-to-day and learning off of the other boys. I’ve got the best in the world to watch every day in training.”
It won’t be easy for Matt to make that final step into the World and Olympic set up; even with his results this weekend and he’s aware of that. “It’s probably well known that there are five in the [sprint] team and there are probably going to be four at Rio. The reason why we’re so successful is that we’re good mates but we also push each other as hard as we can.” But in spite of the difficulties Matt faces in forcing his way into a squad where world champions and Olympic medallists abound, he knows what it will take to get there, “If I’m going to go to Rio I’ve got to be consistent in everything, I think now a year and a bit out it’s good to come across all the events, but I think after the World Champs the kilo might get the back seat and a few other Olympic events might get a bit more priority; but at the moment the kilo’s perfect for developing a bit of skill and fine tuning some of the technical parts which are weaknesses for me!”
That said it’s clear just watching Matt race that he is near unmatched for brute force; so part of the job is done. “Where my strengths are, I have good power, good explosive power, acceleration and strength, I just need to work on some finesse, some tactics and things; so we need to make sure we qualify every spot we can and I need to make sure I improve as a technical rider, improve the technical finesse as much as possible; and that will put me in the best shape to be one of the few riders who get to go to the Games.”
The kilo time trial, four laps of the 250m track, was over in just 1.01.314mins for Matt, and it’s a minute of racing that if he’s honest he can’t remember too clearly. After receiving his medal he said, “It’s hard to explain, it’s an absolute blur to be honest. The whole idea is to get as fired up as you can rip the s*** out of the bike and just hope you can hold on to the end.” The firing up certainly worked to the point where even the first 250m are blanked out for Matt. “If I look back on the race I can’t even remember what happened after the first corner to be honest.”
Thankfully there was no serious damage done for Matt, just a couple of grazes down one side – it looked a lot worse than it was – and Ethan was not brought down either; something Matt is relieved about given their good relationship as teammates and Ethan’s status as one of the world’s best team sprint starters. From there instead of a rush of adrenaline kicking in Matt went through the motions of staying in good condition and preparing for round 2. “Straight after, as soon as I went down you have that moment where you go into the foetal position until you stop sliding. I felt one side burning and tried rolling onto the other side and that helped a bit. Then you really just have to keep moving, because as soon as you stop that’s when everything seizes up, and obviously you want to keep your muscles moving, you don’t want them to tighten up; so I was aware of that. I jumped down and they did the concussion test which is protocol now and everything was fine.”
Any indication of pain on Matt’s part was not given though as he bounced back to take the final two matches and win the bronze medal, as Sam Webster overcame Eddie Dawkins to win gold. “Sam’s probably one of the best examples of someone who’s tactically good, and I think I’m definitely becoming better [at that],” Matt said. “Being able to beat someone like Ethan shows that I’m improving, but still with a crash like that it shows there’s still room to work. I know sometimes you have to take risks, I don’t feel like [the move that led to the crash] was a really stupid decision, it was definitely a risky one; it’s just how it goes.”
Matt continues racing tonight in the keirin having qualified in the first round behind Dawkins. Stay tuned for more from the Skoda Elite Track National Championships at RoadCycling.
By: Ed Wright