One Australian rider made Paris-Roubaix part of his mission statement. Mathew Hayman knew he could win it. Year after year he returned to the cobbled roads in the north of France determined to achieve something special. Yesterday he did as he said he would: he won a big rock. There’s a lot more to this win than the victory alone…
– Photos: Graham Watson
Hayman. Roubaix. Champion.
It happened. He said it would. Those who know him, believed him. Mathew Hayman was going to win Paris-Roubaix. He may be softly spoken and not much of a showman but there is conviction and a deep sense of understanding about a race that makes very little sense.
Why would you want to ride those roads in the north of France, let alone race on them year after year after year only to get to the end feeling as though you’ve been kicked in the guts?
Hayman has explained his passion for the race that’s got many nicknames but is really best known simply as “Roubaix”. He can’t get enough of it and now his name is amongst the list of champions.
He’s been there and done a lot but winning hasn’t happened often in Hayman’s career. But all of what’s transpired until 10 April 2016 was part of the lead-up to a pivotal moment. He can now relax. He’s done was he said he would. He’s won.
It’s not just any race, it’s Roubaix!
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An April tradition for the past few years has been to talk to Mathew Hayman about Paris-Roubaix. He knows it so well and his insight is wonderful. He takes the time to talk punters through the details of how one races on roads that one should never really ride on.
His eyes light up at the word. Roubaix. It’s been like a beacon for him: something to strive for. Something to get him on the bike in the misery of another cold wet dull day when he’d much rather hang around the home and play with his son Harper.
“But daddy,” he tells his young son, “also has to go to work.”
The very concept of racing over the 52+km of cobbles that make up part of the 252km race doesn’t make much sense but it does provide a special type of rider with a true sense of anticipation.
“Yeah, always for this race,” says Hayman when asked if he still gets a buzz about Roubaix. “Always.
“I’ve been waking up a bit through the night thinking about it. I feel like the form is there and I’ve prepared well for the season and prepared well for the Classics but I really only get four races this year on the cobbles.”
That was last year. In 2015, in Hayman’s 14th attempt at the race, he finished 76th. Another dusty, disillusioned bloke inside an old velodrome wondering the obvious: why?
But he’d rest, analyse it all, and even before the aches and pains had subsided, he would start planning for how he would do it again “next time”. There always seems to be a next time for the perennial professional.
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Mathew Hayman made his move early. Australians got to see the race in its entirety for the first time ever. We could experience the anxiety of the start, the speed of the opening hour, the desperation to “make the break”.
We would see Hayman and his Danish team-mate Magnus Cort make the move. All the while we wondered when it would be reeled in.
The stars of Roubaix, the Masters of the Classics – the likes of Fabian and Tom and Sep and now Peter – they were who everyone talked about. They are the obvious candidates for predictions.
Who’s going to win Roubaix? It’s the question that is a feature of the beginning of April every year. If you know Mathew Hayman, it’s obvious to add him to the list. He’s always looking for that rock to put in the cabinet and remind himself of why he has been a bike rider for so long, but considering his lead-up to the 2016 race, it didn’t seem logical to reference him as a potential winner.
How can a guy who broke his arm on the opening weekend of the Classics, be back in time to hold a rock aloft on a podium in Roubaix?
He’d find a way. The misfortune of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on 23 February 2016 was a distant memory only six weeks later.
The fractured radius cost Hayman valuable time on the bike.
Forget the roads, he was told by doctors. Forget about racing for a while. Wait for the bone to heal and we’ll get you back action sooner or later.
Sooner. It had to be sooner.
Onto the home trainer he went. He maintained his fitness, kept his legs turning over, and remained focused on his dream.
This Sunday in April marks a special day in cycling. Whoever wins is lauded.
There may be surprise champions but there are never coincidental ones. A rider doesn’t get to the top step by chance. It takes guts and determination, stamina and conviction, skill and – at times – desperation.
Hayman will be 38 on 20 April. He’s been racing his bike for over 20 years. He is a veteran of the pro peloton and now he’ll be remembered for one special day on the road to Roubaix.
There’s a lot more to be said about a victory for the ages, but for now just reflect on how the champion must been feeling. He did as he said he would. He’s won in Roubaix and it’s a monumental achievement.
– By Rob Arnold