The days leading to Paris-Roubaix provide most people in cycling with a certain buzz. There’s an sense of anticipation even for those who have never been part of this race that often evokes references to ‘hell’. It is long. It is flat. There are big stretches of cobbled roads that are part of the folklore of cycling. And there are people like Mathew Hayman who never get tired of talking about what makes this Classic so mythical.
It’s for this reason that we have kept an annual tradition alive: Hayman was asked if he had 20 minutes to chat about the ‘Hell of the North’ and he duly obliged. He spoke with Rob Arnold via Skype.
We present the interview in two parts: first, a review of the Tour of Flanders, followed by his preview of Paris-Roubaix.
Click the Soundcloud file below to listen to the exchange and/or read the transcript below to listen to what Mathew Hayman has to say about the 2015 edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
RIDE: I guess [we’ll start] with a quick appraisal of what you made of Sunday’s race [the Tour of Flanders]. I just did a podcast with SBS and they were pondering if it was not quite ‘an exciting’ edition this time around. What’s the inside line?
Mathew Hayman: “Yeah, I mean I’m on the rollercoaster racing every single corner and maybe… I haven’t watched it on television [but] I can imagine that, if it stays pretty well together – and Sky were doing their normal tactic of controlling everything and trying to dominate in that way. But I think that the new course is going to always lend itself to a race where people wait and and wait and wait because what can you do if you’ve got the Oude Kwaremont and the Patersberg so close to the finish?
“There’s not a lot you can do.
“So it’s really [a case of] people are going to wait until that last 40 kilometres and, even then – even more so – if the way Sky, with their tactics this year which I don’t see a problem with. If you’ve got a guy who can win the race [Geraint Thomas] and they tried to protect him and get him into every climb without having an incident. That’s what they did. And he didn’t have the legs.
“I’m actually a big fan of the old course, it suits me better. But I think this way [with the new course] it shuts the race down totally because you have to wait.
“The first time you can do anything is the second time up Oude Kwaremont – and then you’re straight into the Koppenberg and then it’s 30km to go, so you can’t move before then anyway.”
Beforehand, I did an interview with Thomas and told him how I was nostalgic for the Muur van Geraardsbergen – and all of that – because it had a real sequence to it. And the Bosberg, although it was never a typically hard climb, you understood the rhythm of the race before, didn’t you?
“Yeah, and there was more opportunities. A lot more opportunities… different people won it from the Valkenberg, people won it on the Muur van Geraardsbergen. There were more groups going up the road and a lot of [attacks] can come back afterwards – after the Bosberg – if you didn’t watch out. If you didn’t commit to the finish line.
“It was a long kind of downhill, headwind run so if you didn’t commit there and a group waited, people would come back.
“If you kept riding over the top of both those climbs, you had the ability to come back [to the lead group] and it made it a bit more exciting. And I think this race [in the new format]… ah, yeah – I understand why they’ve done it: three times up the Oude Kwaremont and you can sell all those VIP tickets and make it more of an ‘Event’ than just a national holiday. They want to get some money out of it… but if you want to know the reason I think that it will stay a ‘bit of a boring race’ – maybe for the viewers…
“But if you watch enough cycling, you can see enough things in Flanders. There’s enough to view even though there’s nobody in the breakaway… there’s plenty going on.”
It is an engaging race and I couldn’t put my finger on if it was just me who wasn’t in the mood or the right frame of mind to be feeling the adrenaline… Kristoff is obviously the fitting winner. What do you make of him. You were up [near] or around him at the time that he surged away with Terpstra. Can you consider that kind of power? He obviously smashed it…
“No, it might have been Jens [Keukeleire] who was still there. I was just off the back. I went over the top of the Taaienberg and I was in the group with Sep [Vanmarcke] and as soon as everybody saw Sep was there, that pretty much was the end of our group – nobody was going to do anything was going to do anything with him.
“Everybody in that group had somebody [else from their team] in the front and the moment that we saw Sep was there, nobody was going to help him one iota. It was kind of the death.
“Had he not been there, I think our group would have come back before the Oude Kwaremont… it split just over the top there just because it was narrow and somebody let the wheel go and because Sep missed out, everybody kind of sat up.
“But yeah, Kristoff has been pretty… he’s in fine form. He’s shown that he’s more than a sprinter. And you’ve got to wonder how much sprinting [he’s going to keep doing]. I was very surprised to see him sprinting yesterday in the Schelderprijs when Roubaix is just around the corner.
“He’s obviously a favourite for that again and to be sprinting [for the win on the Wednesday before Paris-Roubaix] in [a race] that’s notoriously dangerous… he’s obviously on top form to have the confidence to be sprinting there four days before Roubaix.
“Nerves of steel.
“He obviously still is a sprinter but he’s flying. He’s got a run at the moment which seems hard to beat.”
Is [Kristoff] the Favourite for Roubaix?
“No, I don’t think so. I think, obviously, Terpstra is looking good and I think Roubaix can be a little bit different.
“I think Degenkolb, when he puts himself to something – and I think since last year he’s looked at Roubaix and decided that that’s something he can do, like Milan-San Remo… I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the man to beat.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold
[More on Paris-Roubaix coming soon…]