Sunday’s elite men’s road race at the Glasgow ‘Super Worlds’ resulted in a truly stacked top 10. Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Tadej Pogačar made as good a podium as you could ever hope to see, but also in the top 10 were big names like Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven, Stefan Küng, and Tiesj Benoot.
Standing out in that top 10 as the least established of the bunch was seventh-placed Matt Dinham, the 23-year-old Australian, in his first year as a professional. It was a very impressive ride from the former mountain biker turned DSM-Firmenich road pro, who was in Sunday’s early break and managed to hold on when the favourites came to the fore.
A day after the race, Dinham spoke to Escape Collective about his ride, as he waited for a flight from Edinburgh back to his European base in Nice. This interview has been lightly edited for fluency and style.
Matt de Neef: Congrats on an awesome ride! You weren’t even supposed to be doing Worlds, right?
Matt Dinham: No, initially I was first reserve for Worlds. I knew I was first reserve for a while but then obviously with Caleb [Ewan] and what happened at the Tour, and I think just in general, he’s been struggling a little bit, the team notified me that he was going to be pulling out. And then that opened the door for me to come in as the reserve.
First they asked me, they were like, “Oh, is it something that interests you?” [Dinham laughs at this point – ed.] And, obviously racing for Oz is something that you’re never gonna turn down so it was awesome to get that opportunity.
When did you get the call up?
It was a little bit late. They just had to let Caleb make his decision. Which obviously, it wasn’t easy for him either, because I’m sure he really wanted to be here, to support the guys and obviously represent the green and gold as well.
I still had enough time. Mentally, I was coming into it in a pretty good place, knowing exactly what my role was, just trying to do the best I could. I had about maybe a week, week and a half, just to wrap my head around it and start doing my homework on the course.
Given how you rode, you must have come out of the Tour de France feeling pretty good?
Yeah, for sure. I think after the Tour, I knew it would probably bring me up another level. And I was feeling quite good at San Sebastian last week until I had a flat on the Jaizkibel, and there wasn’t much coming back from that unfortunately. So I knew the form was there, but maybe not to that extent.
And then yesterday, for me, [my role] was just to cover the early moves, especially if it was a bigger group, in the hope that I could get to the circuit and sort of avoid the initial fight and wait for some of the leaders to come across and then help guys like Bling [Michael Matthews] or Simon [Clarke]. But yeah, I think in the end, once that group did catch us quite deep into the race, then I was a little bit fresher than some of those boys.
How did the move get started? And how was it out there? It seemed like everyone worked well together.
The start was a little bit chaotic, obviously with cobbled streets in neutral, so everyone was pretty stressed. But it actually went quite quickly. I was sort of in the rotations. We started on a big highway and we came to a bit of a narrow point and I was on the front. And a group sort of split out of the corner; some guys dropped the wheel in front of me. And I was like, “I’m not sure who’s up there, but I better get there just in case more guys come across.” And then I think there were like three separate groups that sort of formed as one.
The guys [in the eventual breakaway] all sort of had the same idea – they just wanted to avoid the initial fight and try and make it as far into the circuits as possible. So yeah, we were looking after each other pretty well. Then obviously, we had some time to chat about it at the protest.
What was it like up there when the protestors stopped the race?
That was pretty interesting. You could see the cars were stopping up ahead. I sort of figured out what was going on before we even came up to it. It’s not too uncommon these days that they try and do protests. Yesterday they got pretty lucky.
I think it might have been good for us to have that little break. It sort of restarted the race a little bit, because it was quite long. I know a couple of us were getting quite cold out there. For me especially, I was freezing. When we got going again I was definitely feeling not the freshest, just after waiting around, then obviously came back into it.
Talk me through those moments when the favourites started bridging from behind. What was that like?
I was trying to conserve energy all day, because I knew me being in that break wasn’t necessarily to try and race for a result; it was more so to be a backup. So I decided to try and stay fresh so I could do the job for the other boys. And then yeah, I think we could see in the breakaway how quickly the peloton was getting strung down like lap after lap, on sections where they were coming past on the other side of the road. So we knew it was going to be pretty small by the time they got there.
And then they caught us just before [Mathieu] van der Poel did his attack so I knew I just had to stay out front because there was no chance to recover if you were down the back, especially for the guys in the break. I think some of them, once they got caught, kind of sat up a little bit and drifted a little bit too far back and sort of lost motivation. It ended up being the right decision [trying to stay at the front]. And then I could try and follow some of the moves.
What were the tactics for you then? Because it was just you and Simon Clarke left then I think?
Obviously we didn’t have race radios so we didn’t really know who was where. I knew at one point that Bling was coming across; I got given that message. That was just before we got caught. So I was sort of saving myself, trying to sit back a little bit. But then yeah, I didn’t know Simon was still there and that Bling had obviously been dropped or I think he got caught up in the crash, until Simon came up to me, but that would have been like two laps or a lap maybe after we’d already been caught. Because he was still trying to come back to the front.
And then I didn’t really get to do too much for him. We came together and then there was an attack that went on the next climb. I think it split again and I made the selection and he was in the group just back. It was pretty much that you just had to race. I think when you haven’t got radios and moves are going on the finishing circuit you just have to back yourself a little bit and race it out.
Do you feel like the course suited you pretty well, given your technical skills coming from mountain bike?
Yeah, definitely. I think when I saw it, maybe it was a little bit daunting. I think everyone was a little bit nervous to hit the circuit. But I knew if it rained and you were in the bunch it would have been absolute chaos. But yeah, for me a really technical circuit like that definitely suits me quite well. I found the same thing at Worlds last year [in Wollongong, Australia, where Dinham also finished seventh, in the U23 men’s race – ed.] and quite a few of the races I’ve done, like Amstel [Gold Race], generally, if it’s not the best weather and starts getting a bit more technical, I do seem to go a little bit better; just the handling skills from the mountain bike.
I can save energy in the corners and just positioning-wise as well. You could see the guys that were struggling in the corners were having to use quite a lot more energy yesterday, just having to chase back every climb. They can do that for a little while but when it’s a 270 km race, it definitely wears you down over time.
Are you impressed with your own effort? Are you surprised?
Definitely. I think if you’d told me at the start of the day yesterday where I was going to end up I don’t think I would have believed you. I knew the form was OK after the Tour but yeah, I definitely wasn’t expecting that. I definitely surprised myself a lot.
I was in the race and I was like, “OK, now I’m coming up to the top 15.” And then the numbers just kept going down. I was like, “Now I’m sprinting for a top five.” It was pretty crazy.
What does this do for your confidence and for your future in the sport?
Throughout the season, I felt like I’ve definitely improved. And I think now, it’s just another step for me. Obviously, it’s not quite the same as if I was in a bunch following the favourites from there. I think I still have to keep that in perspective a little bit. Because I’m sure there’s a lot of strong guys who maybe got caught up in that bunch that didn’t make it to the front again.
But definitely, the result itself gives me a fair bit of confidence for the races going forward. Hopefully I can put this to good use in the future races. I’ve got Arctic Tour of Norway coming up in two weeks. So we’ll see how it goes there.
It feels like it’s been a big neo-pro season for you – a couple of Monuments and the Tour de France in your first year, which is not all that common. And then a bunch of stage races and Worlds. How are you feeling at this point in the season? Starting to get tired? Or do you feel like you’ve got a bit more to give still?
Obviously, it’s been quite a long season. I think after the Tour I was maybe a little bit tired but then you have moments like representing your country or after a result like yesterday, which definitely ignites some motivation a little bit again. Hopefully I’ll finish the end of the year on a high then have some time off and rebuild for next year.
Going from the race schedule last year, with nowhere near as many race days, I was definitely worried about the volume this year. But I’ve found it pretty good so far.
Just to go back a bit, how did you find your first Tour de France? And how did you find it compared to what you were expecting from your first Grand Tour?
I knew it was gonna be intense. And I’d done Paris-Nice earlier in the year and the boys were like, “This is pretty close to the Tour in terms of how it’s raced and the intensity.” But, yeah, it’s never quite the same [Dinham laughs again at this point – ed.], I think, when you’re racing against all the top guys in the world, and they’re willing to put themselves on the line because it’s a Tour stage. It definitely makes things interesting.
But I really enjoyed the experience. I think, if there was any race throughout the season I look back on and I was really happy I was part of, it was definitely the Tour. Obviously, having a fair bit of climbing and those hard stages in the Basque at the start, yeah, I think it was a good Tour to have done in a neo-pro year. It sort of sets the expectation now, for the rest of my career.
Speaking of the rest of your career, I’m curious to hear what sort of rider you see yourself as. I think from the outside, we look at you as a climber who’s good in a support role in the stage races, but then you’ve shown that you’re very good in one-day races as well!
Yeah, it’s even tricky for me to say sometimes [another laugh – ed.]. I think I’m pretty versatile coming from a MTB background. Growing up, I raced a lot of BMX and downhill, and mixed it up with the road and a mountain bike as well. So I’ve had exposure to a lot of different things and it’s given me attributes that I probably wouldn’t have had if I just stayed on the road.
I think these punchy, technical circuits definitely suit me quite well but I’d still like to keep developing my climbing. I think the goal is still to try and develop into a GC rider. And I think this year, I’ve already made some good steps in terms of trying to improve myself on the longer climbs.
I think that’s still where I’m struggling compared to some of the guys, especially when you’re racing against Tadej [Pogačar] and all those boys. I think I can compete with them on the shorter efforts where I can sort of go hard and then recover. But yeah, I’m still trying to improve on those longer climbs to move myself up a little bit.
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