This is part two of an interview done the day after Paris-Roubaix with Mathew Hayman of the Orica-GreenEdge team. He’s explained his loss of many minutes to the winner, Niki Terpstra, and how two punctures in three kilometres near the final sector of pavé ended any hope he may have had on a day when he was not only a leader but also finding his rhythm on the cobbled roads leading to Roubaix. The discussion takes place over the phone with Hayman at his home in Belgium, and Rob Arnold at RIDE HQ in Sydney.
We take up the conversation again…
RIDE: When you started doing this race you would have had to explain to people back home in Australia what Paris-Roubaix is all about. But these days you could get many thousands of people quoting Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Abre and all these things to you. The way that the broadcast and the interest has grown is immense. Does it affect you?
Mathew Hayman: “In the days leading up to the race, I got a fair few messages from people in Australia. There are a lot of people who knew how I feel about those races and I do feel now that the English-speaking countries – whether it’s Australia, the UK or US – definitely now seem to have taken Paris-Roubaix and put it up there with the Tour de France and it seems to get a wide audience.
“Flanders, for some reason, hasn’t quite cracked it as much as Paris-Roubaix though. Here in Europe I believe that race may be even held in a slightly higher regard as a race because Roubaix is just so special – it’s such a one-off while Flanders is a culmination of those weeks of racing in Belgium. But Paris-Roubaix definitely has almost a cult following around the world probably for the same reason: it is so ridiculous and such a one-off thing that only happens once a year.
“But yes, for sure, the guys of this era have a lot to owe to the Stuart O’Grady’s and Cadel Evans – those who have won world championships, winning Paris-Roubaix or winning the Tour de France – I mean the sport has always been good at a participation level but now it’s more mainstream. I’ve seen it change a lot since leaving Australia and living over here. There was always a lot of people out riding their bikes but it’s become far more common.
“It was easy to pick the Tour de France but now Roubaix and a few other things seem to be in the limelight there [in Australia].”
There was a time in this year’s Paris-Roubaix when you were riding at the front and really showing yourself. You made the break and were part of a group of others who animated the race with around 70km to go. Can you remember all who you were sharing the pace with?
“Oh, I can’t really remember it in the same way you see it. The race is really hard to consider. I spend the next couple of days trying to mentally piece everything back together. I didn’t get to bed last night until 1.30 or 2.00am. Then I wake up at 6.00am and all the while there’s a constant video on my head of things that happened and moves I did and what was going on at what point.
“There was a point there when there was a group away and we were all pretty aware that Fabian and Sep Vanmarcke were the two guys who, at some point, needed to get into that front group and close that gap down. They were the ones to watch and even though you’re getting tired and you’re pretty much done and you can’t really think straight anymore, if you just get into the wheel of those guys and when they go just try and hold on. That’s pretty much all the tactics that I had towards the end.
“It does take a couple of days for me to remember exactly what was going on where and I think the race yesterday – that I haven’t seen from a television point of view yet – was one with groups going and coming back and people going across and being dropped all the time. It was a pretty hard one to read.
“I think Fabian, at one point because he was down on team-mates, just set his sights on Sep Vanmarcke who was surrounded by team-mates and decided that was going to be his tactic: to mark Vanmarcke.
“It’s hard in the final of those races be thinking clearly and making good decisions, it’s really a difficult task when you’re so shattered. I just keep telling myself, ‘Everyone is tired. Just keep getting into position before the cobbles. The moment you’re down the back and you lose five metres, that’s it…”
In the race, when riders are ducking to this section of the road and that section of the road, are you actually seeing the path that is ahead of you? Are you thinking, ‘Okay, there is a clear line of dirt and no stones…’ can you see the road in such a way?
“For sure. But often the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. You could be riding down the centre of the cobbles and have a look or somebody passes you one a side and it looks a bit smoother over there, so you jump over and have a go or you come back… there are different advantages. If you ride down the centre of the cobbles you can be pretty sure that there’s not much in your way. If you start following guys through the dirt on the side, there can be any kind of holes or anything like that – which means you have to leave a little bit of a gap, which means you’re not quite ‘in the wheel’. It’s on the side that you’re probably more likely to puncture.
“So there’s a lot of things going on there. When you’re tired you’re looking for anything. You start swerving and looking for the easiest line all the time. Guys are going from the centre to the sides and not seeing you. They can take people out, that happens a lot. Or guys on the side crashing and their bikes ending up in the middle of the road right in front of you… there are many scenes. That’s another reason why you just want to constantly start the sections in the front, there are just less chances of chasing and the guys who are there are also riding more smoothly and in a straight line. If you get down the back people are nervous or trying to get back to the front and making poor decisions.
“Ideally, you just want to ride down the centre as it’s the safest, there’s less chance of punctures, you know you’ve got the most room to get around anything. You’re probably not going to hit any hidden things. If you’re on the side it could, all of a sudden be some sharp rocks or it could just be a big hole in the side of the road and it only takes one or two guys to hit that and people are going down.
“There are also some sections that I have a bit of a knowledge of from riding them so many times. ‘Oh, this section has a spot on the right…’ and I tend to move towards those.
“Arenberg is normally just straight down the centre for the first bit, then centre of right for the second half. But again, Arenberg, it’s super rough but if you stay on that centre ridge you’re fairly safe. Yeah, so there is a bit of tactics.
“Also, if you do see something you can adjust your position or take a hit on a pothole and try and save the tyres or the rim. If you all of a sudden see a big hole in the middle of the road, you can kind of use your body as a shock absorber and try and avoid a puncture with a pinch-flat. I’m not sure if everybody does that or if that is one of the reasons why I tend to ride not so badly on the cobbles, that I’ve just learned that over the years: a style thing or a ‘talent’ or whatever it is.
“Then again, that being said, this morning I was thinking about Carrefour de l’Abre yesterday and just how you really cannot see and how you have no real idea of where you are – how you are just riding blindly on somebody’s wheel. You don’t know if the next supporter is going to put their arm out or take out your handlebars. You ride and you hope that they’re all going to get out of the way. And really, by that point, you don’t care anymore. All you can think is, ‘I don’t want to lose that wheel in front of me.’ And you’re just hoping that the guy in front of you is making the right choices.
“If you leave a space that’s large enough to allow for a margin of error, that two metres just so you’ve got a bit of an idea of what’s actually coming up, then you may never close it again.
“By that point I’m hard up on the wheel and I just don’t care anymore. If I get bucked off, I get bucked off.”
Is your head shaking so much that your line of sight becomes blurred?
“No, it’s not quite like that. I can see what’s going on and make pretty good choices. That’s not a problem.”
And the dust doesn’t get into your eyes?
“Oh yeah, by the end of the race it does. Sometimes when I get tired and I’ve done big efforts my eyes start to go a bit hazy, a bit like I’ve been in a chlorine pool for a long time. That’s not nice towards the end of a race. I start to blink a bit and lose a bit of my vision… which I’d prefer not to. But, again, towards the end you’re just giving it everything.
“There are less choices. There is less tactics. There is less thinking. And it’s more about survival.”
I know it’s your son’s birthday and it’s important that you get to spend some time with him but I wonder if we could just briefly talk about Harper. He turns three today. He probably watched papa on the television yesterday. He’d be starting to express himself a little now and have something to say to you when you got home. What was he like when you saw him again after racing to Roubaix?
“Last night he didn’t want to go to bed until daddy got home so I’m glad I made it here not too late. This morning he wanted me to start explaining, again, why daddy has to go to the races. He’s decided now that he doesn’t like it and he’d prefer it if I stayed home and looked after mum.
“Now that he’s getting his own voice and getting his own thoughts, I’m going to have to try and explain that one to him.
“It seems like a bit of a cop out that I said, ‘Daddy has to go to work…’ because it’s not really a job, it’s something I love doing. And when you do leave, there are others in the same situation and I like to catch up with the boys and the other guys on the team who have kids; we talk about what that’s like, having the family at home while we’re away for weeks.
“I do think that Harper believes every other child at his school also have fathers who have to go training every day. I’m pretty sure that’s his view of the world: he thinks every dad is a bike rider.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold
(For part one of the interview with Mathew Hayman, click here.)