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Matt Hayman: becoming a champion

Mark Bailey
27 Jun 2016

The 2016 Paris-Roubaix champion discusses the power of boxing kangaroo flags, his Tour de France dream and why he loves mowing the lawn.

Cyclist: You won Paris-Roubaix – your favourite race – at the 15th attempt in April. Did you think your chances of victory had faded?

Mathew Hayman: I’ve had a fair amount of success in the Classics with top 10s and podiums but every now and again Roubaix throws up a winner who’s not the favourite. That kept me believing I’d have a chance one day. I really like the Classics style of racing but Roubaix has always been special. It’s taken a while to sink in and days go by when I don’t think about it, then every now and again I will pull up a photo or watch a bit of a clip. I haven’t watched the whole race but it sounds like it was a great race with lots of things going on with Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan.

If it had been 40 minutes longer I might have come up short

Cyc: You were 37 at the time [now 38]. Do you think your experience finally gave you the edge?

MH: I think one of the advantages was that I knew every bump in the road. Tom has a lot of experience as well but going into the final kilometres I probably had the most experience out of everybody. I’ve experienced everything at that race, including a lot of lows, and sometimes that knowledge can be detrimental. You remember: I had a puncture here, a crash there, someone fell off there, better watch that corner. But the experience really paid off this time. I felt really calm and in control at the end. I wasn’t panicking and although I didn’t feel like I was making a lot of decisions, I was.

Cyc: What was the key move you made?

MH: Ian Stannard came underneath me at a corner at the start of the Carrefour de l’Arbre and that put me off the back of the group. At that point I thought my chances were on the line. I knew the chase group was not far behind so if that group had swollen to 20 guys I could easily go from top five and a potential podium place to top 10. I was hanging off the back but when I rode back across to those guys I could see they were suffering. So I just decided to hang in there. 

The final moment when I made my sprint early was important but the key move was probably staying with them before that. Having been out in the break I didn’t know when the lights would go out. There was a tailwind so the race was a lot quicker than normal. If it had been 40 minutes longer I might have come up short because I’d been out with injury.

Cyc: You broke your arm at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February. How did you get back so quickly?

MH: Oh, I thought my Classics were over. I’d spent three months training hard in Australia, I’d been altitude training with the team, and I’d spent a lot of time away from my family, so to be halfway through the first one and to have it all go up in smoke was devastating. The doctors said I’d be out for five to six weeks so I did the maths and Roubaix was exactly six weeks away. I said, ‘You’re telling me I could be back for it.’ They just shook their heads. 

I’d crashed on the Saturday and by Thursday I was hitting the home trainer. Someone told me about the Zwift
virtual online training scene and it was a game-changer. I started racing people online and trying to get King of the Mountains and sprints. My heart rate was going through the roof. It meant I could do two- to three-hour rides without getting bored. Sometimes I did double sessions in the morning and night. So when I got back on the bike I’d managed to keep up my fitness.

Cyc: Did you see many Australian fans along the course?

MH: I saw a few guys from Brisbane who were in the middle of the stones. It’s a funny race because you can pick people out of the crowd a bit. I kept picking out a lady with a boxing kangaroo flag. Normally my mum comes over with my brother to watch me and she’s usually got a boxing kangaroo flag so I kept thinking it would be her but it was someone else. It’s great to get that support. A good friend of mine came over with a group of mates on a bus trip and seeing them standing near the finish was pretty emotional for me.

Cyc: What are your earliest memories of cycling when you were growing up?

MH: I rode in the velodrome and on the road too. My older brother started first and I followed him into the sport. There has always been a broad community of riders in Australia. When you go riding today there are hundreds of thousands of people. You can ride next to a builder one day and a heart surgeon the next. It’s a cliche but cycling is the new golf in Australia. The success of the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans winning the Tour [in 2011] has had a similar impact to that of Wiggins and Cavendish in the UK.

Cyc: Is your 2006 Commonwealth Games road race gold another career highlight?

MH: The Commies were very special and that memory doesn’t get old. Pulling out that white jersey with green and gold stripes is very special. I was there when Cadel won the World Champs too [in 2009] and that was a massive moment. But the Commonwealth Games was another fairytale for me – a bit like Roubaix. I had spent a lot of the day working for Allan Davis but I ended up being the one there at the finish.

Cyc: Has the peloton changed a lot in your 16 years as a pro in Europe?

MH: Training techniques have developed massively. This is a sport steeped in tradition and I noticed when I first came to Europe that, in some ways, with the amazing national training centres and Olympic training facilities in Australia, we were more advanced than a lot of the European pro teams. The sport has changed a lot, as your photographer [Leon van Bon] will know – he used to ride with me at Rabobank, you know. It was Team Sky who really changed things, though. Before they came along it was all about training long and eating lots of pasta. Now guys train more specifically. They race less but target specific programmes. Sky brought all the other teams up with their marginal gains.

Cyc: What is the team atmosphere like at Orica-GreenEdge?

MH: With our Backstage Pass videos a lot of fans can connect with us and see what goes on. It looks like we’re laid back but don’t be fooled. We’re a serious bunch of guys and when we need to work we get very serious. With their racing spirit, your Yates boys [Simon and Adam] fit in just nicely.

Cyc: What do you enjoy about being based in Belgium?

MH: Where I live in Belgium is close to the circuit of the Amstel Gold race and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège course so it is a really varied training environment. There’s a close group of English-speaking riders and we’ve all grown up and had families together. When I won Paris-Roubaix they had a little street party for me and pulled out the barbecues. Cyclists get treated very well in Belgium. The locals are big cycling fans, but you can also grab some down time and live a normal life. With all the racing, sometimes I like just mowing the lawn and hanging out in a normal suburban street.

Cyc: You raced in the Tour de France once, in 2014, but had to abandon. At the age of 38 is finishing the Tour still an ambition?

MH: Definitely, as soon as I finished the Classics I was off to Andorra to train at altitude and get straight into my Tour training. I will have to wait and see if I make the team. I’ve not finished the Tour and I would love to go back. Getting off in 2014 was the lowest point of my career. Clipping out of my pedals after waiting 15 or 16 years to get there was heartbreaking. It was hard to come back from that actually. But riding the Vuelta last year, when we were winning stages with Caleb Ewan and Esteban Chaves, was a great three weeks and reinforced my feeling that the Tour is something I want to be a part of before I retire.

Cyc: Best of luck, Mat.

MH: No worries. I just hope your photographer takes pictures better than he rides…

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