The jersey has changed, the role has altered but the brief remains the same for Mathew Hayman. After four years trying to help Team Sky replicate its achievements elsewhere on the cobbles of Belgium and France, the Australian joins Orica-GreenEdge with the aim of filling a similar gap on its résumé.
In just two years of existence, GreenEdge has already won a monument (Milan-San Remo in 2012), stages in all three grand tours and held the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, but has failed to make a telling impact at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. You can't step into the same river twice, but Hayman is certainly wading back into familiar waters.
"If you're going to say that GreenEdge has done a lot but not been able to hit it at the cobbled classics, then look at Sky. What haven't they done in cycling in four years? But they still haven't been able to crack one of those monuments, so it's not easy," Hayman told Cyclingnews. "When you come up against the likes of Boonen, Cancellara and Sagan, and when those guys are on, they're hard to beat, even with strong teams. It's not easy, but that's why Flanders and Roubaix are the biggest races."
At Sky, Hayman was just one element of an ensemble classics cast that included Geraint Thomas, Bernhard Eisel, Ian Stannard and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Though the British outfit tended to carry multiple leaders at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Hayman's role was still largely a supporting one.
While part of the Hayman's task at Orica-GreenEdge is to guide the squad's younger riders on the pavé, the relative lack of experience in the roster – exacerbated by Sebastian Langeveld's departure to Garmin – means that he will combine road captaincy and team leadership duties in April.
"The team is less stacked with classics riders than Sky, obviously, so I might get more opportunities," Hayman said. "But there are also some young guys on the team excited about the classics and it's nice to see a new generation of Australians who want to do well in those races. There's young guys there starting to get a passion for those races but it takes years and years to learn the roads, and I'll give them any help I can to shorten that learning period."
Now 35 years-of-age, Hayman is aware that he is running out of time to land a classic victory and mindful, too, that in a straight fight, he does not have the legs to beat the likes of Boonen and Cancellara over the pavé. Instead, he must have the nous to take advantage if circumstances fall in his favour.
"The race that I live for is Paris-Roubaix and I was in that lead group when [Johan] Vansummeren won [in 2011 – ed.] and maybe that was my chance," he said. "But every now and then, Roubaix throws up a podium that's not the traditional of Fabian and Tom. So I live in hope that I'll get another chance."
During Hayman's four years at Sky, the team tasted victory on Belgium's Opening Weekend (Juan Antonio Flecha won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2010, while Chris Sutton and Mark Cavendish won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in 2011 and 2012), but was unable to replicate that success at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"I don't have an explanation for it but this could be the year when it all turns around," Hayman said of Sky's classics record. "They've definitely got the calibre of riders but maybe some of the guys don't have the experience. But there are definitely guys there who enjoy the races and that's important – you have to want to be there."
Sky's decision to withhold its classics unit from both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico last year sparked debate long before the team again fell short at Flanders and Roubaix. Although the experiment will not be repeated this year, however, Hayman is not sure that it should be dismissed outright as a failure, pointing to his own third place at Dwars door Vlaanderen shortly after their pre-Classics training camp.
"There wasn't a form issue, definitely not. As far as strength goes, we were well-conditioned there was no problem. Some of the guys talked about not feeling like they were in race mode but I didn't have that problem, I was quite happy with my preparation," the former Rabobank rider said.
"Sure they're moving away from it this year, but I wouldn't say it was a failure. It was good to try and it was worth it. If someone gave me the option again, I'd think about it. I think it's six of one, half a dozen of the other."
Hayman himself will ride Paris-Nice this season, but will forgo this weekend's Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in favour of a training camp. "It's similar to what I did last year, expect with Paris-Nice in there," he said. "I'll use this block of time to train, and then from Paris-Nice on, you can't really change your form. Whatever you've got there, it's what you'll carry into classics."