He turns 40 later this spring and while retirement is on the horizon at some point in the near future Mathew Hayman has not made any concrete decisions beyond the end of this campaign. The former Paris-Roubaix winner turned pro in 2000 and has become one of the most loyal and trusted domestiques in the modern peloton but with the prospect of hanging up his wheels looming ever closer the Mitchelton-Scott rider has begun to contemplate a life after pro cycling and what it could mean for him and his young family.
In this personal interview with Cyclingnews, Hayman talks about denial over one day having to stop, how coping with the transition away from racing could affect him, and how having fun in his final outings as a rider is one of his main priorities.
Cyclingnews: When were you first asked, 'is this going to be your final year?
Mathew Hayman: Probably a couple of years ago. And now it's turning around the other way. Now that I'm starting to contemplate this being my final year people seem to be shocked by it. For a couple of years people were asking 'when are you going to stop, when are you going to stop?' but now I've told them that this could be it, they come back and ask 'well why would you stop?'
CN: Have you made your decision in your mind?
MH: If you'd asked me a few months ago I would have said for sure that this was the last year, not that I've not decided yet. It's not set in stone but I'm a bit more comfortable about it. I got to January, February in 2017 and I felt that it wasn't going to be my final season. I wanted to come back to the Tour Down Under and there were a few other things I wanted to do. Last year I knew that I wanted to do another year but I don't know about next year yet.
I think that the Olympics are too far down the line. I think that's one thing that I would have liked to have done, gone to the Olympics, and I got pretty close in London but it didn't happen. Everything else, I've been pretty happy with and I like being on the team, and I like helping guys win races.
CN: Maybe one more Worlds? I know it's a tricky course but you crashed out last year…
MH: I would like to and people have talked to me off-hand about how I would like to finish and that would be an ideal way, but the course…. I've ridden almost every Worlds and the ones I've missed have been through injury or something like that… but it looks like a Worlds that doesn't have a place for me. That's disappointing but it would be a nice way to stop. Maybe I do have to carry on in 2019. Stopping in a national jersey would be a nice high to go out on.
CN: What about doing a Cadel Evans style retirement and going out at the Tour Down Under in 2019?
MH: I've thought about it. That and Roubaix.
CN: And call it like Boonen?
MH: Or do a Canberra crit, and call it a Hayman. Look, I really don't know. I know that I have to be realistic and there are other people involved. My family is involved and I really have to think about our future. I've been pretty lucky with the support I've had from my wife over the years. Her ability to handle the time I'm away has been massively important, so I need to talk to her. She's given so much and we got married in 2006. She was an athlete, she was a cyclist, so she understands a lot of it but I've seen a lot of relationships and athletes struggle in their post-career years and that's something I need to think about too.
CN: It's a major adjustment.
MH: This sport, this lifestyle, and it's not just me, it's all the staff, it's everyone. We're not in one place for very long, there's a lot of adrenaline and it's all addictive. As much as it's tiring, you're moving all the time and you're going from high to lows. To go from that to a sedentary lifestyle… I'm sure there are people who can't handle that because it's a big change and for a lot of us as riders cycling is all we've known for a number of years. For me, this is something that I've been doing since I was 16 or 17 years old.
CN: Do you know what sort of opportunity you'd like to move into? I remember your boss Matt White could have carried on racing for at least another year or two but when the opportunity came for him to direct at Slipstream, it was the right opportunity at the right moment.
MH: Well I distinctly remember riding with Matt during that period. He confided in me that he had an opportunity to go into a role that might not be there in a year or two. So far I've been happy to keep riding but it's something, retirement, that I've started to think about. I've been in denial about it for a long time but it's something I think about. I've mentioned a few times that I could even move away from the sport and have a bit of a quiet life and there are people around me who think that's not reality at all. They think that I'm too embedded and that it means too much for me.
CN: Someone told me the other day that former rider Jay Sweet makes walls or fences now. There are entirely different careers out there.
MH: Look there are plenty of guys out there doing different things and it's a big world out there. Every now and then you get a glimpse of it. This life, it's a bubble, and this is all you know and it's all I have known. That said, I've also got experience and a skillset from this sport that I can use. The passion is there, otherwise, I wouldn't be racing at this stage, and at this age.
CN: Would you be a team director?
MH: Possibly, possibly. I wish I was being coy and did know the answer but I really don't know. Some of the things that get tiring are the days away and being on the road and I have a small family that I don't want to miss out on. That said, I've been out in Australia training and I've been able to see them and spend a lot of time with them. There are plenty of other professions where people spend time away from their families but nothing is set in stone.
CN: When you think back to 2000 when you turned professional with Rabobank, did you think 'I'll be here in 2018?'
MH: No, not at all. I distinctly remember getting that contract and within a few months of racing thinking to myself 'I have to fight for the next one'. I thought that if I could do it for ten years then that would be enough to make me 'a professional' because there have been plenty of guys who had careers of three or four years. That's why I applied myself to be a good domestique so that I made sure that I had a spot on the team and that I was useful in every race. That's how I ensured I got a contract. There was a business element to it.
CN: It's survival.
MH: Yeah. Some guys would try and win a race and do this and do that. There were a few guys who came over to Europe and struggled with the lifestyle and they were definitely the hardest years for me, too. You're in a foreign country with language barriers and you're struggling physically at the bottom of a team. There are bouts of almost depression at times and it's hard to train. I got through it and came out the other side and I'm very comfortable in Europe. I have a home there.
CN: Will you stay in Europe?
MH: I'm not sure. I'm Australian, my wife is Australian but we're not in a rush to come back. We do love Australia and do long-term see our futures, and those of our children, in Australia.
CN: Is it hard to focus on the racing, when there's that future waiting for you over the horizon?
MH: Not at the moment. I'm going to try and enjoy it. It's gone so quickly but I do try and enjoy it more. I'm still focused and hard on myself as far as racing goes but I think you need to enjoy the sport still. I know that this could be the last time I'm here, at this race, and that hasn't really dawned on me but I'll just try and enjoy it.
CN: This could be the last Classics campaign in that case. Do you then say to the team, 'I just want one more crack, can I have a leadership role?'
MH: I think that would be out of character for me, other than at Paris-Roubaix but if I'm the best rider on the day, then for sure. But look we have Trentin on the team. Luke Durbridge was riding consistently well last year and they deserve to have their opportunities, and an older guy like me to help that. That said if I'm the best rider, and there are a couple of races that I've earmarked, and I want to have a crack at them. Roubaix is one of them I won't hide that. I'm going to have another go.
CN: How about the Tour?
MH: It's possible.
CN: You could play a really important role within that first week…
MH: I finished the Tour last year and thought I was done with the race but I think a lot of riders think that. We all say it and it's a cliché but it is a pressure cooker. It's not just the racing, it's everything that goes along with it. And if you're trying to go and enjoy your racing… but that said it's the pinnacle and it's where you want to be. So if there's a role for me and the team really want me to be there, then I'll go. It requires a lot of dedication and it means being at altitude for camps, being at other races and it's basically a three-month project. To put in that dedication and not go, I've been on that side of things a fair few times, that's hard to handle.
CN: What would you prefer, winning Roubaix again or the cobble stage of the Tour de France?
MH: Roubaix again. A Tour de France stage win is up there but for me, the only race above Roubaix would be the world championships. Flanders, Flanders would be nice.
CN: So finally… this is probably the last season?
MH: We'll see. I did tell my wife the other week that if I did another she should shoot me, so if you find me dead it's because I've said I'll do another season.
CN: That's my headline right there.
For more of the Cyclingnews podcast, click here.