As Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) talked about his victory at Paris-Roubaix, still inside the velodrome after lifting the winner’s iconic cobbled trophy and later in the press conference inside the new covered velodrome, he could hardly believe what he had just won the race, beating Tom Boonen and Ian Stannard.
Hayman had fractured the radius bone in his right arm at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad race on February 27 but never gave up on his dreams of riding Paris-Roubaix. He clocked up more than 1,000km on the virtual trainer Zwift and spent numerous sessions in his garage at home to hold into his form.
He started the race in Compiegne without any pressure on his broad shoulders but then throughout the race he was always in the right place at the right moment. He rode carefully in the early break and then ensured he was in the final selection of five riders that slugged it out in the final sprint in the Roubaix velodrome. He took a risk by leading out the sprint but it was an instinctive decision based on experience that allowed him to hold off Boonen and Stannard and make a career-long dream come true.
“The only emotion I felt was disbelief. To win Paris-Roubaix is pretty surreal. But I think I’ve done my time, I’ve ridden Roubaix 15 times; I’ve sprinted on the track for a top ten. Sometimes you have to go for it and sometimes good things happen,” Hayman explained.
"If someone had told me this morning I’d win Paris-Roubaix, I wouldn’t have believed them, no way. Other years I’d dared to dream about it and in other years I felt good. This year was different. I haven’t really raced since breaking my arm in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The doctors were pretty convinced that my Classics were done but I really wanted to get back as quickly as possible.
“I spent a lot of time on the home trainer; I was in my own little world, riding in the garage twice a day. I knew I had to hold onto the months and months of training that I do for the Classics every year. This is my 17th year as a professional and it started in October. I spent a lot if time away, time at altitude, a lot of time away from the family, to be ready for the Classics. I didn’t want all that to be taken way by a crash. So if there was no chance that I could get back, then I’d do it.
“I did two races in Spain last week but before the race I was relaxed, I was carefree, to enjoy the race and see what came. I was here to ride Jens Keukeleire if I had the chance. When I went in the break, it was the first time I’d moved all day, so I was fill of energy. I knew I had to stay calm and control things, then the more I got towards the finish, the more surreal it became but I was just relaxed and having fun.”
A deserved winner
Hayman has clearly paid his Paris-Roubaix dues and was a deserved winner. The dedication he showed to work and then return from his fracture was rewarded with victory.
“This race is huge for me. If you speak to anyone at Orica-GreenEdge, they know this is the one race that is really special for me. It’s the one race I talk about from October and I’ve done it 15 times now, and I always finished it,” he said.
“It’s the one big races that throws up a surprise winner every once and again. It can be Stuart O’Grady or Johan Vansummeren. That keeps you holding onto that little bit of hope that one day it can be your turn. Today is my day and the sun is shining on me in the Roubaix velodrome.”
Hayman is known for his hard work and dedication within the Orica-GreenEdge team and remained modest even in victory. He had just won the biggest race of his career but empathised with Boonen, who he stopped from winning a record breaking fifth victory at Paris-Roubaix.
“I hope you guys are happy with me winning and that Tom didn’t,” he said to the media, who were fully appreciative of what he had achieved. “I’m sorry about that. I’m sure that Tom’s going to have some sleepless nights about it but I’m sorry, but I won….”
He also explained his race and how he fought to get back to the final attack after almost crashing with Stannard on a cobbled corner.
“I was put in a gap but I realised they weren’t going away from me and so I just rode my own pace. That compounded that these guys weren’t superior to me and that I could close the gap,” he explained.
“Then in the finale those guys had to win. Boonen couldn’t get second, Sep Vanmarcke wanted to win. Sure, I wanted to win too, but I could gamble and it paid off.
“I’ve never been on the podium, so I would have been happy with second but when we came around the corner I was on Boonen’s wheel and then the other guys came back. Everyone was tired and gaps opening up, so I decided to hit out and go for it. When I saw 200 metres to go, I was worried. But if you have to go on the high side of the track, it’s a long way round.”
A different final act to his long career
Hayman was perhaps thinking of retiring after the 2016 season but now he is about to enjoy a different final act to his career, with the 2016 Paris-Roubaix on his palmares.
“I have a contract for next year but it days like today what you do it for,” he said.
“This is a special day and I don’t want to do this till I hate it. For now I still love it, love racing and training with the team; I love winning with guys like Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans, winning in Australia. I’m not sure if it will prolong my career. I just want to enjoy what I’m doing.”
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