Mathew Hayman is 14 years into his career, but he admits that he still makes "rookie" mistakes. Hence, he has mixed emotions about the success of his first year with Orica-GreenEdge, after spells with the Dutch Rabobank and then British Sky teams.
But after resolving some minor health issues that impaired his 2014 season - including a disappointing abandon in his first Tour de France - finishing the season strongly has given Hayman, 36, optimism for next season, which starts in January at the Australian road championships at Buninyong, Victoria and the Tour Down Under in South Australia.
Until then he will train, with possibly one appearance with a race number beforehand – the Shimano St Kilda Cycling Club Super Criterium in Melbourne on December 14.
Now back in Australia with his family for the off-season, Hayman spoke to Cyclingnews this week about the year that was – and what he hopes for in the year to come, the second of his two year deal with Orica-GreenEdge.
The boost of a strong season finish …
Hayman conceded that his desire to impress Orica-GreenEdge got the better of him. Training too hard, combined with health issues diagnosed later in the year, led to a tough season that only turned his way after the Eneco Tour in August.
He then rode well in the Tour of Alberta, where South African teammate Daryl Impey won, the Grand Prix de Quebec and Montreal, where Australian leader Simon Gerrans won both World Tour races, the world road title, where Gerrans took silver, and finally in the Tour of Beijing.
"I was at Alberta and having Daryl come back like he did [from being cleared of doping charges after testing positive to probencid in February] and winning the last stage and overall – it was quite an emotional time for Daryl," Hayman said. "Then to have 'Gerro' come over and wrap up those two races in fine form … it was great."
Hayman's sensations in those races were a stark contrast to how he felt leading up to his abandon in the Tour on stage 10 from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles when he was already up to 45 minutes out of the time limit. "I came around after the Tour," Hayman said. "That wasn't me there ... in the first half of the season something was missing, something wasn't quite there. Towards the end, I was coming back.
"We had a look at it with the doctors and trainers and there were a few little things. Not one thing glaringly stood out, but they all added up."
Hence, Hayman has tweaked "a few things" to best prepare him for next season. "Through [last] December and January I probably did too much," Hayman said. "It's never too old to learn. You always want to be better than the year before, but that doesn't just mean stacking it [the training] on. It was a pretty rookie mistake.
"It was probably my ambition to step it up – you never get second chance to make a first impression. I wanted to get my order in the team. I was also gunning for a position in the Tour team and wanted to be going well and not have that in doubt."
Pain of a Tour abandon …
Surprisingly, no one foresaw that Hayman's Tour would unfold as it did in the Vosges, on roads characterised by the many five kilometre-or-so climbs and with little respite. Hayman had struggled in the grupetto on stage 9 to Mulhouse when German Tony Martin won, but he had seemingly recovered well enough to survive stage 10.
Hayman said that an Orica-GreenEdge doctor: "Didn’t see any problems health wise. My heart rate was fine, and I was recovering well and there were no issues."
But after the 10th stage started, Hayman was soon off the back and struggling. "It was quite an emotional time," Hayman said. "It was going from bad to worse. I spent the effort … three hours trying to get back to the grupetto, but … I was barely moving, already 45 minutes out of the time cut and couldn't face it anymore."
Understandably, Hayman hopes for another start in the Tour, but he also realises it won't be an easy earn. His credentials as a road captain and strength on the cobbles and in the team time trial – both elements in next year's Tour – should help his case if he is in good form.
"I will have to keep my head down and show I deserve my spot," Hayman said. "There's a cobble stage, some windy stages at the start and stuff to suit [Gerrans] like the Mur du Huy. The [stage one 14km] time trial will shake up the 'GC' enough to make it hard to get the [yellow] jersey which is what we've been gunning for the last years."
Paris-Roubaix and beyond …
A strong Spring Classics season will help Hayman secure a Tour berth, especially in Paris-Roubaix that he has raced since 2000 for a best result of eighth in 2012. After all these years, Hayman said Paris-Roubaix still: "Sticks out as the one I look forward to every year."
But his self-confessed nerves on race day are not of fear for the inevitable carnage that unfolds and if he will crash, but are more of anticipation for what fate awaits. "I am scared of breaking bones, sure; but it's more like Christmas or your Birthday," he said. "You are excited about the outcome and what it might be – if it's going to be a good or bad day. I try to enjoy it as much as I can … to remember I am there to have fun and am not going to get to many more chances in it. They are ticking by now."
Hayman knows his opportunities at Paris-Roubaix are nearing their end. He will be out of contract at the end of next season and knows retirement is beckoning; but he won't rush into any decision.
"It's there and something I need to work through," Hayman said. "There are times I haven't enjoyed bits of my work this year and the last couple of years, but 90 per cent of the time I still enjoy what I am doing. I still like training. I am still able to train and I am still excited to going to a race.
"I don't see any reason to stop. But I am very aware that can change very quickly. I don't want to be in a position when I go until I hate something. But it's something I need to sit down and evaluate … and something I need to talk about to my wife."
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)