Three-time Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen thinks Michael Matthews is ready to challenge Peter Sagan for this year's Tour sprint crown after a stunning start in the Paris-Nice.
Matthews finished third in the prestigious Milan San-Remo early Monday morning in a sprint finish behind John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha).
The Canberran started the season late, with the Paris-Nice his first hitout before being aimed at the Milan-San Remo.
It is one of the Five Monuments – a series of events known as the Spring Classics, which are major targets for riders outside of the three grand tours.
Orica-GreenEDGE felt Matthews was perfectly suited for the Milan-San Remo and they had built his program to try to win the 300-kilometre one-day race.
"I guess I have got to believe that it's Milano-San Remo and it's my first attempt at going for a result here, so I have to be positive about that," Matthews said.
"I'm really thankful for the team in believing in me and helping me deliver this result."
Matthews' year has been set up to prepare him for his first Tour this July and McEwen said the way he won the sprint title in his season opener, the Paris-Nice, showed the 24-year-old Canberran could push Sagan.
Sagan claimed the green jersey at last year's Tour without winning a stage, instead relying on consistent results over the three weeks.
The Slovakian has won the past three green jerseys, but McEwen felt Matthews could challenge him for the title.
Neither Matthews nor Sagan are pure sprinters, lacking the top-end speed to push the likes of Mark Cavendish, but they are consistently around the mark and have the ability to win after going over small climbs or on an uphill finish.
McEwen likened the way Matthews won the sprinters' crown at the Paris-Nice to what Sagan did at last year's Tour.
Matthews won one stage of the Paris-Nice, but also produced three other top 10 finishes from the seven-stage event.
"It's a good indicator to win a points jersey at a race of that level, the Paris-Nice or Tirreno-[Adriatico]," McEwen said.
"I think at the moment Michael is probably the man to take on Sagan for the Tour green jersey.
"In the fashion that Sagan has won it the last three years, he's been competitive in the sprints – he didn't win a stage last year – but he romped away with green with a million points lead because he can climb ... and that's something Michael's capable of.
"He'll have to do it better than Sagan obviously."
Now GreenEDGE will build him up towards the first grand tour of the year, the Giro d'Italia, in May.
The Giro has been a happy hunting ground for Matthews, winning a stage last year and also holding the pink leader's jersey.
From there he will get ready for his Tour de France debut in July, where a stage win was the next box to tick in his career.
"He turned pro and he was going along well, but he looked like he was almost stagnating at Rabobank and since he's joined GreenEDGE he looks like he's got more focus, a lot more concentrated," McEwen said.
"He's maturing as a rider, so he's getting a bit stronger, a bit more experienced, confident.
"Last year was his breakout year – stage win in the Giro, stage win in the Vuelta [a Espana], wore the leader's jersey in both.
"All that's missing now is a Tour de France stage win; that's his next thing to tick off."