We see Mathew Hayman’s name on the start list in March and rejoice that he’s fighting fit and ready for That Time of the season which matters most to him. It was, after all, only last year that he was stuck in a shed when he wanted to be smashing over dirty cobbles on his bike.
He hasn’t raced a lot in 2017. The birth of twins – Noah and Elodie – early in the year means he has many other things on his mind.
But the cobbled Classics are upon us again and Hayman is doing what he does: race his bike… with humility and grace.
“Going to be giving it my all out there,” he told RIDE recently. “It will be very special to have number-1 in a few weeks – want to prove it wasn’t a one-off with another good ride.”
Of course he’s talking about the number-one dossard for Paris-Roubaix. And his return to the race that has become so much a part of his life.
And of course we know the story by now – it’s an old one but will be a good one for a long time yet.
The accident on 23 February 2016. The fractured radius. The expectation that a Classics season would be wasted.
He never lost focus, trained in solitude and, against all odds, returned to racing on 10 April… and won. Not only did he win Paris-Roubaix, he did so by beating Tom Boonen on his turf.
There was planning in the victory and although the story of his coach, Kevin Poulton, has been told before (in print, in #RIDE72, published in May 2016) it’s worth sharing again. It’s only a couple of weeks until the 2017 edition of Paris-Roubaix and there are a few Classics yet to be decided but why not get inspired again by the efforts of Hayman last year?
Below is a flashback from #RIDE72: an interview with Mathew Hayman’s coach.
(For more on the Classic victory search ‘Mathew Hayman’ on www.ridemedia.com.au)
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— The coach’s appraisal “Everything came together” —
For the final part of our review of a remarkable edition of Paris-Roubaix (published in #RIDE72), we speak with Mathew Hayman’s coach, Kevin Poulton. The pair devised a training program that allowed him to race with full confidence.
RIDE: I’m talking with Kevin Poulton, a coach who helped Mathew Hayman come to terms with an injury sustained at the end of February. By early April it was all basically well and good – and he was off winning Paris-Roubaix. You had a fair bit to do with his Zwift training, didn’t you?
Kevin Poulton: “Yeah, absolutely. Zwift is getting a lot of attention for playing a part in his preparation and it was a big part but really all the work that Mat did in October, November, December in Australia is what really set him up for that win this April.
“The ergo training with Zwift came about as a necessity and it served its purpose very well but it’s a relatively small part of the whole picture really.”
RIDE: If October and November really set him up to win, let’s go back to that pre-season. What did you have him doing that set him up for his favourite Classic so well?
“Really it comes down to a couple of years ago when I first had access to Mat’s training and one of the first things I wanted to look at was Paris-Roubaix and what it took to actually ride that race. I was interested that he’d never really looked at what it took to ride the race. He knew how long it was and how intense it was but in terms of what the specifics were, it hadn’t been looked at closely before.
“When we looked at that, the objective was to put that kind of race-specific preparation to his training but a lot of the work that he was doing back in October, November… there’s no secrets. It’s just good, hard work that Mat does. He is the kind of athlete that really is a role model for other athletes in that he provides accurate information every day, reliable information. That’s why his training is so personalised and that’s how we get the best of him.
“In terms of the training, it’s the usual endurance stuff but the thing is it’s all monitored for him specifically and that’s what the big difference is.”
RIDE: He’s talked about what it took to ride Roubaix and said it was these hundreds of 30-second high wattage efforts – they can be to get onto the cobbles, to ride the cobbles, to battle for position, and then ultimately to sprint for the win. Did you have him doing surges in training, trying to mimic race situations? How did you write a script for that?
“We know that everyone in that race is good for 100km. A few more guys are good for 150km. A few more guys good for 180km… and, as it gets towards the end, the guys that aren’t as efficient are the ones that are losing the wheel and are not going to be there for the finale.
“Mat’s training in October/November was all about really improving his aerobic efficiency and that enabled him to produce that sprint in the velodrome.
“Really, his training was based around that last 10km of Roubaix where he’s conserved energy all day and he has the ability to sprint at the end. That’s what we were thinking about in October and to see it come to fruition was pretty incredible. To race that strongly and go head-to-head with Tom Boonen, was exciting. To see all your plans be put in place and to see it be played out so well.”
RIDE: Can we focus on Zwift for a moment because I think that gives people some real encouragement. The virtual racing world is becoming part of cycling. I guess what helped in those six weeks from the accident was the fact that he could be engaged. Can you talk a bit about that routine?
“Zwift was definitely good for motivation. To be honest, when Mat first crashed in Het Nieuwsblad I was watching the race on TV and his preparation had been ideal up until then. He was producing power as good as 2010, 2011 – four or five years ago – so he was at his best.
“We knew the season was going to be good but when I saw him crash, I was pretty devastated for him.
“I was expecting an email from Mat the next day saying, ‘I’ve crashed. I’ve broken my arm. The Classics campaign is over. Let’s start thinking about the second half of the year.’ But the email I got two days later was: ‘I’m on my ergo in the garage. I’m using Zwift. How are we going to use this?’
“That email was exciting and not surprising, knowing Mat’s work ethic. What Zwift allowed him to do was to stay motivated because the environment it has is motivating. Even professional riders are going to find it hard to ride a trainer staring at a wall for 20 hours a week.
“The key message with Zwift was the motivation to ride every day. He was doing two sessions per day: one of a morning, one of an afternoon because I think any more than 90 minutes is too much on the ergo… it allowed us to have a controlled environment to every session. The amount of hours that Mat put in is pretty incredible.
“At that time, I was in Australia. I went over to Europe at the start of April so everything we did is via the internet, like other coaches. You can coach from the other side of the world these days, no problem at all.
“We discussed how to use the indoor trainer. Like I said, he had the two sessions a day and we had a very specific morning session which was meeting the requirements of the race – like I spoke about earlier – and the afternoon session was just getting the kilometres in at a certain level. It’s not just a matter of riding the ergo, it was very specific to what the requirements of the race were.”
RIDE: You said you were “training together”. Does it mean you were on the bike as well, talking him through it? Or it doesn’t have to be that close an involvement?
“No, it wasn’t me riding as well. It was just me looking at the sessions afterwards. It is possible though. I could have logged on and watched him but there’s no need to do that. It’s just looking at the data later, that’s all I needed to do.”
RIDE: Let’s consider the data he was sending you from the SRM had he been out on the road versus the data he ended up giving you from his stints on the home trainer in the garage. Were you able to tailor those efforts?
“I can quantify it this way for you: for any road rider, everyone using power meters these days, knows what a 1,000 TSS (Training Stress Score) week is like.
“To do 1,000 TSS consecutive weeks on the ergo is pretty incredible and that’s what Mat was able to do.
“Anyone who rides with a power meter understands that 1,000 TSS on an indoor trainer is a massive amount of work. For most guys to do that on the road it would be a big week but to do it on the ergo, it means that there was 20 hours of quality work – no wasted time at all.
“I wouldn’t say that Mat won Roubaix because he was fresh and hadn’t raced; he would have had a good Roubaix regardless of his accident or not. But the indoor trainer just allowed us to replicate the race, basically.
“The TSS is a way of quantifying the amount of work you do in a week; it takes into account intensity and duration, basically. The more intense, the less hours you’re going to have. The less intense, the more hours you’re going to have to get the same amount of stress on the body.
“It’s a good way to quantify things. Going back to Mat as an example for other riders: because he provides that information every day, and it’s accurate, we can use data really effectively to make sure he’s on form on the day.
“I spoke to Mat when I was in Compiegne at the start of Paris-Roubaix and it was funny now because there was no one talking to him. There was myself, my wife and kids… and we knew, going into the race, that he was going to be good. I spoke to him before the race outside the team bus and said, ‘All the data and all the work that you’ve done points to the fact that it’s going to be a good race today.’ And he knew that.
“He told the team he was going to be good.
“I think they were a bit apprehensive about his endurance because he hadn’t raced for that long but we knew the importance of a good day so I think he went into the race really relaxed, knowing he had good form, and confident. But he had no pressure on him to perform well because no one was expecting him to ride like that.
“We knew he was going to have a good day, I didn’t know it was going to be that good though.”
RIDE: If we watch it again – and I think a lot of Australians have – they’ll see different moments during the race and realise that he just looked in command the whole way. Tactically in the end, it was obvious what he was doing. But even, for example, going through the Arenberg Forest and not long afterwards when he was on his own with, say, 80km to go he looked comfortable and on top of his gear and efficient. What were you seeing as a coach?
“It’s good you bring that up because I was in the Arenberg Forest and I watched him go past. My wife said to me, ‘He was doing that so easy!’ And he really was. At that point in the race, the early break had gone, there was about 15 riders there and through the forest that break split up because of the pressure being put on by the riders in the front.
“Mat came through sitting fourth wheel and he looked really fresh; he was doing it easily. Then we followed the race out to Roubaix, obviously. He looked in command all day and doing it quite comfortably.
“For me, what won the race for Mat was when he went head-to-head with Boonen in the last two kilometres – and when he went over the top of his attack and put some space between himself and Boonen.
“Boonen had to dig deep to close the gap to Mat. I think that’s when he hurt Boonen’s legs and he never recovered from it… that’s why Mat beat him on the velodrome.”
RIDE: There’s an image that I remember of Mat Hayman that stands out. It was when he first got to Europe a couple of year ago and was doing some altitude work up near Livigno. He’d finished the session and he needed an ice bath so he wandered into a lake at the top of the mountains which was surrounded by snow. He was standing waist deep in icy water. Do you prescribe stuff like that or is it something he has acquired through years of experience?
“Look, Mat has very good support with Orica-GreenEdge, with the exercise physiologists and access to those sorts of things. We obviously work together with the team there. That’s one of the things…
“Everyone always talks about ‘one-percenters’, if you don’t do the major things first, those things are useless anyway but Mat does the major things in training first and that’s why small things like the ice baths [work].
“We speak about nutrition a lot. I’ve watched him race it so many times, I always wondered what the scenario was going to be for him to win it. Was he going to be solo? Was he going to have to win a sprint? Even at that level the guys forget about nutrition sometimes.
“We had a good plan going into the race for nutrition; to conserve carbohydrates, glycogen, and that enabled him to produce that last five kilometres that he did with all the attacks – and following the attacks as well.
“He spoke about his experience racing track when he was a junior and it really came to the fore.”
RIDE: Do you want to explain any more about nutrition, about the actual specifics of it or is that going too deep?
“It’s just the basics; reminding him about how many grams of carbohydrates per hour, how much fluid to drink… it’s just reminding him about how important it is, particularly when the race is going to be six hours.
“Over three or four hours, you can get away with it but six hours… in training we were always talking about what it’s going to take to be strong in that last hour. Everything we spoke about – nutrition, training, aerobic efficiency – everything came together as a plan for that last hour.
“To be there and witness it was just incredible.”
RIDE: Just to sum up this chat about Mathew Hayman; we understand his physical prowess, his ability to send you the data and everything. But as a person, what’s your appraisal of him? He’s one of a kind, that’s for sure.
“He’s just so humble. I think what really sums it up is when he apologised to the Boonen fans for winning. He was quite genuinely apologetic for stopping Boonen from taking the record of Roubaix wins.
“For me, just to play a small role in his dream of winning Roubaix, I’m really honoured by that.
“He is so genuine and so appreciative of anyone that helps him and supports him… and the feedback from the other riders in the peloton as well, from other teams, they’re all really happy to see Mat Hayman win Roubaix.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold