Canberra's Michael Matthews held the pink jersey, the Giro's overall leader's jersey, for six days. Photo: AP
Canberra's Michael Matthews says he wasn't even planning to ride in the Giro d'Italia, the grand tour race which has catapulted him into cycling stardom.
And while the 23-year-old is disappointed he was forced to quit Italy's biggest cycling event with a fractured tailbone, Matthews has set his focus on winning more stages when he likely makes his debut at this year's Tour to France.
Matthews paid tribute to fellow Canberra rider Michael Rogers, who resurrected his career from a provisional doping ban to win stage 11 of the Giro. Matthews described the 34-year-old as "my role model in every aspect".
Matthews rode into the international spotlight by wearing the pink leader's jersey for six days of the Giro; his performance included a classic stage-six triumph against Australia's only Tour de France champion, Cadel Evans.
But the former under-23 world champion has revealed he was called up to race in the Giro by his team, Australia's Orica-GreenEDGE, just three weeks out from the three-week tour.
"The Giro was not on my race program; I'd planned it all towards the Tour de France," Matthews said.
"I got a call from [team manager] Matt White three weeks before about riding ... we decided it would be a good experience for me.
"It was just amazing, I'd never experienced something like this. When I had the [pink] jersey in Ireland, it was dream come true, but them my fiancee told me, 'Wait till you come to Italy.' And she was right - all the craziness and attention in Italy is hard to explain. I had to have bodyguards at the start and finish line. It was just magical.
"Normally, I call my fiancee 20 minutes after the finish. Last week it was around three to four hours after.
"I've never experienced this."
There was speculation that Matthews, who was never in contention win the Giro overall, was withdrawn after placing third in stage 10 to save him for the Tour de France, which starts on July 5.
But Matthews denied that ploy, saying he was "sad" to quit, but an MRI had confirmed he'd broken his tailbone (or coccyx) in a crash. Matthews had bought all his teammates iPads with pink covers to thank them for helping him claim the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey).
"Every race I start I want to finish and finish it with good result," he said. "The boys in the race helped me so much and we were such a great group of people there, I just wanted to finish it with them.
"I am really bruised and have a fracture in my tailbone, so it's better for me from the medical point of view to relax and get ready for another challenge; the season is still long."
While Matthews is hoping Evans can win the Giro overall, he was particularly proud of Rogers' stage 11 triumph. The pair went to Canberra's Melrose High School, 11 years apart, and Rogers was a mentor to Matthews when he was growing up.
Rogers was cleared of a provisional doping ban in April after authorities accepted he'd eaten contaminated meat in China when he tested positive to Clenbuterol in October last year. In the Giro, Rogers won the next stage after Matthews had withdrawn.
"I couldn’t be happier for him,'' Matthews said. "He deserved that so much, he is great person and really talented bike rider. He is and was a big inspiration to me throughout my whole career. He is my role model in every aspect."
Matthews has now ridden in two of the world's three grand tours, having claimed two stage victories in his debut in the Vuelta Espana last year.
The last grand tour to tackle is the biggest of them all - the Tour de France.
His place is not yet guaranteed, even if he is considered by many to be a future green jersey (best sprinter) contender. Matthews said he didn't want to restrict his goals to the grand tours and he wanted to dominate some of the world's greatest one-day events.
"I think [I can aim for] the stage wins for this year and later on definitely green jersey is my dream," Matthews said of the Tour de France.
"My long-term goals are still the same: Milan-San Remo [Italy], Amstel Gold race [Netherlands], Clasica de San Sebastian [Spain] and the world championships. I am not a pure sprinter as most of the people think, I love climbing, too."