ESCAPE FROM HELL – (IV/V) 2016 : Mathew Hayman

2016 : Mathew Hayman
In the end, it’s not always the strongest who wins. Certainly not in cycling, and most definitely not in Paris-Roubaix. On the roads of the Hell of the North, the „strongest“ can just as easily win in the legendary velodrome as get bogged down in the Trouée d’Arenberg. Year after year, the cobblestone crushers crash in the Mons-en-Pévèle sector or collapse in the Carrefour de l’Arbre – and one cannot underestimate the traps of the asphalt either. On these unique roads, an aspirant for glory needs to be strong, but also brave and lucky. Paris-Roubaix smiles on the bold, even those who have been out there the longest. In a race where chaos is always the order of the day, early attackers create unsuspected openings. Conquerors of the Hell of the North, they tell us about their heavenly day on the cobbles.

Mathew Hayman : “I won in the year when I had the least chance”
Is the early breakaway to Roubaix an Australian specialty? Riders from Down Under waited until the turn of the 21st century to impose their panache on the Classic born in 1896 but they’ve done it in unique fashion. Henk Vogels was the first to break into the top 10 (in 1997 and 1998). Then, in 2007, Stuart O’Grady triumphed in the North after attacking in the first hour of the race. Ten editions later, in the spring of 2016, Mathew Hayman joined him on the list of winners, overturning all the predictions.
At 37, the native of Camperdown, an inner western suburb of Sydney, is a seasoned expert on the cobbled Classics, but he’s no guaranteed winner. Prior to his Roubaix triumph, his professional honours list includes the Challenge Mallorca (2001), the Sachsen Tour (2005), the road race at the Commonwealth Games (2006) and Paris-Bourges (2011). He headed into his 15th appearance in the Hell of the North – he will push his tally to 17, a record in the French Monument – with a wealth of experience at all levels of the race (8th in 2012, OTL in 2002), but with little certainty about his form: six weeks earlier, he fractured his right arm on his first cobbled race of the season, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
For a month, the Australian stepped on his home-trainer and trained on Zwift. In his garage, he prepared to topple the oracles, dazzled by the stars Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan. For the first time, Paris-Roubaix was broadcast in its entirety on television, from the start in Compiègne to the finish in the André-Pétrieux velodrome. For six hours, the race was breathtaking and, in this extraordinary setting, Hayman delivered a masterclass, making the breakaway before surviving the return of the favourites and frustrating the legend Boonen.

KM 0. PREPARE FOR BATTLE : “Roubaix was on my mind, but I had a lot of doubts“
“When I broke my arm, the doctors put it in a cast and told me it would be six weeks. I looked at my phone and I said: ‘Okay, that’s one day before Roubaix…’ The team doctor was there and he said: ‘That’s not gonna happen’. You think of all the effort you’ve done for the classics, and it gets taken away… I have a track background, from Australia, and I’m used to training indoors, living in Belgium. Zwift wasn’t so big at the time but I decided to give it a shot. I did a lot of double sessions, there were a couple of days I even did three or four sessions.
Roubaix was on my mind, but I had a lot of doubts. I went and raced in Spain the week-end before Roubaix. I had done four or five days on the road before that. And I had one week left. By that point, I was pretty confident but other people in the team were still unsure. In the recon, I had to do a pretty hard ride. I think I did four and half hours on Wednesday and I went pretty deep to make sure… I had missed a lot. But I was pretty happy on that evening. I had good legs, my arm was holding up and I was gonna start in Roubaix on the Sunday.”

KM 80. MAKE THE BREAK : “It was starting to get hard and I was still pretty fresh”
“Actually, I wasn’t supposed to be in the breakaway. I was supposed to kind of wait longer. We had three riders that were designated to jump with the early breakaway. But we’d been racing 70-80 kilometres and those roads out of Compiègne are quite rolling. It was starting to get hard and I was still pretty fresh because I had just been waiting, sitting in the bunch. I actually went twice. The first time, on a little rise, I thought maybe this is the break and I jumped in. And the next time, I actually already had a teammate, Magnus Cort Nielsen, and I didn’t see that until I had already jumped. The group became bigger and bigger and we were 21 in the end.
The collaboration was really good. There was some good riders in there, really good riders. And most of the guys, when you’re in that situation, you want to make the most of it. We never got a lot of time, about one and half, two minutes. We kind of had to keep pushing but at the same time, we weren’t racing each other for the sectors, except for Arenberg of course. Even then, being a group of 20, still you want to be in the front. But every other sector, we just went onto the sector and just rode. I think that’s where you save the energy.”

KM 198. CONTAIN BOONEN : “Tom really tried to make it hard”
“I was like: ‘Okay, I’m just here to get ahead, first I want to get through the first sector, then I want to get through Arenberg’, and then a big one for me was to get through Mons-en-Pévèle, but we got caught before. Some guys like Fabian [Cancellara] had missed the split and there were more splits in the group. They had also been racing since Arenberg and the guys that came across, by the time they got to me, they were pretty fatigued. Luke Durbridge was among the 15 riders who came back. He was one of the leaders for our team that day. He was looking very strong.
Tom [Boonen] was doing a lot of work, the group was too big and he wanted to thin it out. Onto Orchies, he really tried to make it hard again, he didn’t have so many teammates and I think he wanted to get rid of as many people as possible, and at the end of Orchies, Luke punctured. If he was in front of me, maybe I would have given my wheel but he was already behind and stopped before I could react. And then I was: ‘Oh well, I’m by myself now.’”

KM 257.5. BRING IT HOME : “Coming into the Velodrome, I probably had the smallest palmares”
“On Mons-en-Pévèle, there was a big acceleration, I was caught behind a rider, maybe it was [Marcel] Sieberg… And I could see Sep [Vanmarcke] or Ian Stannard going really fast. I hesitated, I was thinking: ‘I’ve been in the break, maybe I just stay there…’ But I understood I had to go. Still, I didn’t believe I could win. Then on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, I was knocked off the wheel, I managed to come across and that’s when I started believing. Coming into the Velodrome with Sep Vanmarcke, Ian Stannard, Tom Boonen and Edvald Boasson Hagen, I probably had the smallest palmares. But I wasn’t thinking like that, I was just thinking of racing, having moves, covering attacks, trying to get to the finish line.
Then, as soon as I crossed the line, I came back to reality and tried to understand what had happened. In other years, I was in great shape and something always happened. And I always put pressure on myself to have a good race in Roubaix. I knew that when Tom and Fabian accelerated on the cobbles, they were impossible to follow – for me and for everyone else! So I looked for other ways. It’s just a race I fell in love with. And I won it in the year when I had the least chance of doing well.“

Mathew Hayman :
• Born on 20th April 1978 in Camperdown (Australia)
• Sports director for Team Jayco AlUla
• Holds the record for most participations in Paris-Roubaix – 17 :
Winner in 2016 / 8th in 2012 / 10th in 2011