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Matthews in mood for Classic contest

Michael Matthews is in mood for victory in tomorrow’s Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic, the UCI WorldTour race that will bring the curtain down on the capital’s three-day cycling festival on Sunday evening.

The Australian, who was picked as the man to beat by fellow-sprinter Mark Cavendish earlier this week, achieved his cycling dream when he won the Tour de France Green Jersey last weekend.

But with that goal behind him, the 26-year-old has already turned his attention to the world’s richest one-day race when he will face German powerhouse Andre Griepel, named as favourite by race director Mick Bennett, and Team Sky’s Elia Viviani – “the fastest man in the field”, in Bennett’s words.

Matthews was third last year when Tom Boonen’s perfectly timed finish caught the pure sprinters by surprise. But after winning two stages of the Tour de France and securing the coveted points contest on the Champs Elysées a week ago, the man from Team Sunweb could be in form to go two better this time.

“My dream, my goal in cycling was to win this jersey and I didn’t think it was going to be at 26,” he said today. “I was hoping sometime in my career I’d get an opportunity form a team to be able to support me to go for this jersey.

“Team Sunweb backed me fully to go for the jersey and we came out with it. It’s a really big gift for me and the team.

“Now the Classic is a WorldTour race, maybe it’s going to be a little bit different to last year. Maybe last year it was a little bit out of control with the different levels of the teams. With the majority of the WorldTour teams here it’s going to be more controlled, I guess.

“Hopefully, it’s still an exciting race with the little climbs and small roads but normally it’s a bunch sprint.”

In which case Matthews is likely to be in the mix, although he believes Griepel will have a point to prove after struggling for form over the Tour’s murderous climbs.

“He’s coming here motivated,” said Matthews. “These climbs for him aren’t too hard – he can get over these small climbs.

“For sure he’s coming here with a little bit of anger from the Tour. He had a few near misses and maybe he should have won in Paris. He was getting better towards the end of the tour. He’ll definitely be one to watch tomorrow.”

As will Viviani, who said today he is full of “fresh energy” after two victories at the Tour of Austria earlier this month.

“My last race in Austria was two weeks ago,” said the 28-year-old. “I spent a good time at home and had good preparation for the last part of the season.

“It’s a part of the season where I’ve taken a lot of results in the last few years, so the biggest goal is to take more wins from now to the finish.

“Racing in Britain with the Team Sky jersey is always special, and with this Classic it’s a special one for me as the first time [I was here] was in the Olympics.

“This day is one of the amazing days I’ve done on the bike because the people on the course are unbelievable. From that moment, I really wanted to come back every year and do this beautiful race.

“I have never come really close to winning it, although I’m always in the top 10, but I hope tomorrow will be a good day for me.”

The Italian will doubtless have full support from the famous Sky train, led by the team’s road captain, Luke Rowe, while Sir Chris Hoy’s hopes of a second British win in the Classic may rest with former Sky man Ben Swift, now of UAE Team Emirates.

Swift has twice lived up to his name by finishing on the podium here, missing out on victory by a whisker when Adam Blythe beat him in 2014 and placing third two years ago when BMC Racing Team’s Jean-Pierre Drucker produced the sprint of his life to clinch his first pro win.

Another former Sky man, Mark Renshaw of Team Dimension Data, has also come close in the past, including 12 months ago when he was runner-up behind Boonen, while Bennett’s namesake Sam, of Bora – Hansgrohe, is the race director’s ‘dark horse’ of the 2017 field.

While the 187km route is known as a sprinters’ course, the rolling Surrey Hills mean that a successful breakaway is never out of the question and any one of a number of one-day classic specialists could follow in the footsteps of Boonen if they can get clear off the top of Box Hill.

One of those who might well give it a go is the up-and-coming Belgian Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo.

Like Griepel, Stuyven will be making his Classic debut. The 25-year-old announced himself on the world with a stage victory at the Vuelta a Espana in 2015 and followed that up by taking Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne in 2016. He came close to defending the title this year when outsprinted by Peter Sagan and then placed fourth at the one-day classic Paris-Roubaix race, which could bode well for his chances in London’s Classic.

“I have no idea, because the only thing I know from the course is from watching on TV,” said Stuyven. “It’s my first time racing in the UK so it’s all new but from what the guys say and from what I see it might be a course that fits me well.

“But it also depends on the racing. It all depends on Box Hill, the tactics and how it will go. I’m also able to jump with a small group. In the sprint, I might not be the fastest so I need a harder race. I just follow the instinct.

“For me it doesn’t need to be controlled too much or too big of a bunch.”

Stuyven’s fellow-Belgians Oliver Naesen of AG2R La Mondiale and Sep Vanmarke of Cannondale-Drapac could also be eyeing a breakaway move, while Britain’s Ian Stannard of Team Sky is another one-day specialist who could spring a surprise in what has often proved to be an unpredictable contest.

A prize pot of 100,000 Euros will be up for grabs at the 2017 Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic, which includes prizes for the Continental Tyres Sprints Competition and Continental Tyres King of the Mountains.

This year’s route will take the riders from central London out to Surrey where they will climb Leith Hill before two circuits taking in Dorking and Ranmore Common. Riders then head to the famous ascent of Box Hill before returning to central London and the iconic finish on The Mall.

The Classic will be screened live on BBC One from 15:30 to 18:30 on Sunday 30 July. It will be the final event of Prudential RideLondon, the world’s greatest festival of cycling, from July 28-30.