(Originally published 5.05pm 11 April 2016)
At 4.32am Monday 11 April, Mathew Hayman hung up the phone after speaking to his brother Marcus who still lives in Canberra. The champion of the 114th edition of Paris-Roubaix then called his father before finally switching off the phone and pretending that he could get to sleep.
He was in a hotel room in Gent, Belgium where the Orica-GreenEdge team usually stays. With him was his wife Kym and son Harper.
For the next few hours, he’d close his eyes occasionally but once he knew Kym and Harper were asleep, he reached for the phone to check the results one more time.
“1. Mathew Hayman (AUS) OGE: 257.5km in 5:51:53 (43.907km/h)”
It was true. It had happened. He wasn’t dreaming. But he needed confirmation.
By 7.21am in Belgium he conceded. He wasn’t going to sleep much more than a few minutes at a time. So he took to the phone again.
“It’s a bit of a tradition,” he told me when I answered, “that we speak about Paris-Roubaix in the week before or after the race. Let’s talk.”
And with that, I hit the record button and this is what he had to say…
Click the Soundcloud file to listen to the exchange with Rob Arnold and/or read the transcript below.
– Photos: Yuzuru Sunada
Mathew Hayman: “I seemed to be in ‘the zone’ that athletes talk about”
RIDE: I’m really excited to talk to you Mathew. We do this every year but it’s a bit different this time, isn’t it?
Mathew Hayman: “Yes. No. I mean I’ve talked about this race a lot. Doing an interview like this is still hard for me to totally get my head around.”
It was immediately apparent that you were a bit confused if you’d actually won it. When you turned up at Dan Jones’ feet you were sort of asking him the question, ‘Did that just happen?’ What did you have in that exchange with Dan?
“I was pretty sure I’d won the race. I was pretty sure but they all stood around waiting for my reaction and I was asking myself, ‘Did that just happen?’ more so than whether I had actually won.
“You know, ‘Did that really come off – what I only thought would ever be a dream?’
“And then it wasn’t until a little while later, maybe a minute or so, that I actually just kind of let it out and threw the arms in the air and had a bit of a hug with the boys.”
A lot of people talk about ‘dreams’ in their sporting career but you’ve talked to me about waking up in the middle of the night thinking about Paris-Roubaix, so it literally is part of your sleeping thought. Did it live up to expectations?
“Yeah, so far. It’s been pretty cool.
“I did realise last night [while] walking home from when we went out with the whole team that you’re just the same person, nothing has actually changed but then I continually double-checked my phone and was wanting to make sure it really happened.
“It has been a dream.
“It still feels a bit like a dream.
“And I guess you make dreams goals and things like that but definitely this year it was always a bit of a surreal race for me in the way that I felt no pressure at all and I seemed to be in ‘the zone’ that athletes talk about.
“I was just out there having fun and doing something that came naturally.
“I wasn’t planning anything…
“I was thinking and decisions were being made but they were automatic. I was just on autopilot. And I think that’s what I had over the other guys.
“I wasn’t selecting gears.
“I wasn’t thinking about this or that.
“I was just, ‘I’ve been here, I’ve done this race, I’ve missed out a few times…’
“There was a few times when, on Carrefour de l’Abre when I was dropped off for a while – that was one of the times I said, ‘No, no..! I really want this. Keep going.’
“Although I was a little bit worried at that point that it could have been my race and that it could very well have been another point where I didn’t really panic and I just rode myself back on.
“The closer I got to the finish I saw how tired the other guys were. And I’ve raced with them before a lot so I’m pretty aware of [them].
“I didn’t feel that anybody was invincible.”
To show the composure that you did in the last, say, 25 kilometres – after you got back on following The Stannard Incident – that takes a lot of self discipline. There were moments when people had to chase and moments when you had to chase. And from the television it really appeared as though you couldn’t have read it better and it’s that saving of energy that gave you the kick that you needed to get ahead of Tom. Is that right?
“Yeah, 100 percent. I think the major thing was, I was prepared to lose.
“I was really prepared to lose and I didn’t have to win. And I think the other guys there – we’d come down to a select few – and they were all fairly sure that they were going to win or had a chance to win and had to win.
“And I was the one that was… I’d been in the early breakaway, I’d been out of racing, I hadn’t been in Flanders, I hadn’t been in any of the races these guys had been doing for the last month… so I was probably their last worry at that point.
“Tom and Sep were marking each other.
“Ian was obviously trying to get away.
“Edvald probably backed himself in a sprint; he’s super quick and has won many races in a bunch sprint…
“And I think the further I got – the closer I got to the velodrome – I became a threat but while they were worried about each other I was happy just to bide my time.
“The years of experience helped me be able to do that because often I’m the one that jumps in – like my attack with about 80km to go, solo from the breakaway which was probably not the [best move]. There were reasons why I did it but I was darting down a path there of something that I didn’t really want to do.
“But in the final every time I made a good move it kind of compounded my thoughts and made the next one a better one. And it pushed the other guys into a worse situation.
“The more they were chasing and the more they weren’t watching me, the better.”
It’s thrilling and the guys who you were up against, let’s say the four that you rode into the velodrome with, they’ve won a lot. It’s new to you; bike racing is not, but winning is. Is it foreign to you…? It’s a different emotion isn’t it?
“Yeah it is. It was a bit hard for me too at the press conference; maybe I wasn’t as flamboyant or… yeah, it’s hard.
“Maybe I was not super confident and I was just trying to give them the honest story of how I felt and what I did. But yeah, it’s not something that I do week in week out like some guys.
“As I’ve said before, Roubaix is one of those races that throws up a different winner every few years. I’ve always said it.
“I’ve said it to guys on the team bus before the race. ‘Look: Stuart O’Grady, Magnus Backstedt, Johan Vansummeren, Frédéric Guesdon…’ it doesn’t matter, they’re there…
“And it kind of also is one of the Monuments that keeps guys dreaming, that keeps… anyone in the first 20 yesterday would say, ‘Well, Hayman’s won Roubaix, maybe I could…’”
And having Harper and Kym there was an extra special treat.
“Yeah. They don’t come to many races. They know how special it is.
“My mum is over from Australia. My [older] brother (Michael who lives in Holland) who works really hard and doesn’t get much time off, they made the special effort to come and after the start of the year – and missing out on all the Classics – to come back for this race, I think Kym just decided, ‘No, I want to be there this year.’
“Who knows how many more years I’m going to do it.
“It was special to be able to have them there. You see it on television, other people winning races and having the family there… but to see them and not have to spend an hour and a half doing the protocol before you can even speak to them, that was pretty nice.”
Now we have to ask about how you did come back because if you break an arm in February, you’re not really expected to be racing for a cobblestone [trophy] in April. How did you manage this?
“It was a fracture of the head of the radius. It was still in the bone, not quite in the joint.
“The doctors were a little bit concerned because it wasn’t quite in the joint.
“I did everything I could: saw some physios and had some treatments; I had the cast off after 10 days; I was already doing some ergo with the cast on – which made the cast a bit stinky but I didn’t have any skin off underneath the cast so there was no worries with infection or anything… and then just ergo sessions.
“I even kept them going into times when I probably could have been out testing the arm on the road but I felt like I was getting a lot of quality work done [on the home trainer] and so I was introduced to a virtual world.
“I was on the home trainer using a program connected to the internet and riding around with Zwift. An old coach, Bobby, put me onto that and said, ‘It might be something just to help you find a few other people…’ and it seems to motivate these other people.
“It would be strange if you ever told me that I’d spend much time on the ergo.
“It’s something that I really did not enjoy.
“I’m the kind of guy that prefers to ride in the rain than to sit on the home trainer but I got into it. And I guess also having the goal there when you’re pretty focussed on something helps.
“So there was many hours on the home trainer.
“I was just on the home trainer twice a day for two and a half or three weeks.”
I’m curious about your sessions. Was it a Wahoo Kickr? What were you using and what sort of length of time are you on the home trainer each session?
“I was doing about an hour and a half or an hour [and] 40 morning and evening.
“I had a trainer that adjusts the power and I was using the [Zwift] program.
“I felt like it kind of enables you to concentrate because it is something to do with riding and if you’re trying to watch television or a movie then you’re not really concentrating on what you’re doing.
“And if you’re just looking at a blank wall then you have to be doing efforts…
“So this was kind of somewhere in between. You’re riding one a ‘road’ – as it would seem – on a computer game and the gradient is changing…
“In the morning I’d often do interval sessions and in the evening I would do a bit more of an ‘endurancey’ type ride; often I’d be following the races that were on in Europe, whether it was Tirreno, Paris-Nice or the other Classics.
“So by the time the finals of those stages [were on] instead of sitting on the couch and watching them, I’d be on the home trainer.”
Let’s just go over things: you’re going to be an ambassador for Zwift, obviously. [And] for spin classes everywhere. There’s going to be coaches referencing ‘what Mat Hayman can accomplish…’, and you’re also riding an aerodynamic bike on pavé. It’s a coming together of products isn’t it?
“Well, yes. That was another part of if… we were talking last night with Matt Wilson, one of the directeurs here. He was saying, ‘The way you came to the race and just said: Look I just want to ride that bike, put those wheels in… and yep, I’m happy with that…’ it helped.
“I’m normally one who is down to the mechanics’ truck, back up every day twice a day, three times… changing my ideas, changing things around, trying stuff and being super obsessed with my bike and everything for Roubaix.
“This year I said to them, ‘Oh, I’ll just take a chance. I’ll ride that bike.’
“Take a chance. Life is about risks. ‘Put that pressure in…’ and then, ‘Maybe I’ll go in the break, I don’t know…’
“And I was very much in that kind of state of [not caring].
“I said to Matt the day before that there’s a chance that, if there’s been attacking for a long time and our guys who are designated to go in the break are getting a bit tired and I’ve done nothing the whole time, I might just have a go.
“It pretty much worked like that.
“I hadn’t tried to go with any breakaways and [the one that went] was the first time I really tried.
“Oh, I tried once before – a little bit but we went away, I don’t know, probably 25km before the first cobbles so about 75km into the race.
“To have one move and go in the breakaway was already… maybe luck was already smiling on me just for that to happen. Some of those guys must have been trying for the full two hours to get in the breakaway – the guys that I was with…
“I was there, fresh. And that is actually probably the key to win: being in that breakaway.
“I rode every sector easy.
“I didn’t have to fight.
“There was no surging.
“We rode the cobbles probably easier than we rode the road for most of the way until we got caught.
“The first time that I really had to go deep was after we got caught on Mons-en-Pévèle when Sep attacked and took Ian with him. Then I had to follow Tom and Edvald – so, actually, the group from the final pretty much. So that was still with 50km to go.”
You tell me that you replay your mistakes in your head. What are you going to do now that you made no mistakes?
“I do sometimes stay awake at night after a big race like that and go over the errors but this one I think I’ll just have to savour and enjoy it every time it comes up.”
Just as a closing one, what one portion of the race will stand out as your replay in your head?
“Just the moment all that I can remember is coming off that last bend and still being in front and just giving it everything I had and watching that wheel beside me – and it wasn’t coming.
“It was coming but not quick enough.
“Just that crossing the line and thinking, ‘Now I have to throw the hands up. I have to do something.’”
– Interview by Rob Arnold