Micromechanical analyses of unidirectional continuous-fibre reinforced composite materials were performed to study the mechanisms of deformation and fracture of the constituents, and their influence on the mechanical properties of the composite. Special focus was given to the matrix material behaviour as well as to the interface between constituents. The matrix was modelled using a pressure dependent, elasto-plastic thermodynamically consistent damage model. Cohesive elements were used to model the interface between matrix and fibres. Part I of this paper details the continuum model developed for a typical epoxy matrix. Part II will focus on micromechanical analyses of composite materials and the estimation of its elastic and strength properties.