The planning behind Orica-GreenEdge's acquisition of Mat Hayman at the end of 2013 was twofold with the Australian bringing across his experience on the cobbles, and 14 years as a professional with Rabobank and Team Sky to share with the squads younger riders. While Hayman admits his performances at the classics with Orica-GreenEdge have left him disappointed, his role as a road captain and mentor for an increasingly youthful squad has demonstrated his worth to the team as the inking of a two-year contract extension in October suggests.
In 2000 when Hayman embarked on the first of his ten seasons with Rabobank, his now teammate Caleb Ewan was just five years of age. Fast forward to 2015 and the duo were part of Orica-GreenEdge's squad at the Vuelta a Espana were Hayman's cool head and wealth of experience contributed to Ewan's stage five victory and Esteban Chaves' two stage wins, six days in the leader's jersey and fifth place overall.
"I guess every race I get given the role of being more of a road captain outside of the classics where I still have my own ambition," Hayman told Cyclingnews of his mentoring role. "Caleb has some guys who are bit more dedicated to him but we were able to work together a bit and in the Vuelta which was the prime example of working with both those guys.
"That was big highlight of my season. Both of them are really talented in their own way. Esteban is a bit older than he might look, he looks very young but he's been around for a few years. He's got big ambitions and comes across nicely saying all the right things but I can tell you he's really shooting for the stars and is quite a killer when it comes to racing and a nice guy off the bike."
At 37, Hayman might just be approaching his final years in the peloton but if this year's Vuelta is any kind of indicator, he could well be going around for a while yet as described the infectious enthusiasm of Ewan on the eve of the 'beach' stage 1 team time trial.
"[It was his] first grand tour and we had a team time trial that was dangerous over gravel roads, bridges ... and I was really doubting if it was something I wanted to be a part of," he recalled. "I know he's a sprinter so he's pretty loose and open to some danger but he was like 'this is an opportunity to win a stage in a grand tour and I want to go for it 100%' and it's not like I have loads grand tours under my belt and I have never won stage but I was ready to call it off because it was too dangerous so it was nice to have the young guys around who make you realise there was a stage of a grand tour up for grabs."
Hayman's best personal results in 2015 were 16th on the final stage of the Tour of Qatar and 18th at Gent-Wevelgem. While he only has a handful of wins to his name, including the 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medal, Hayman explained that playing a part of team victories this year made up for a lack of personal results.
"Caleb winning the stage and Esteban being fifth overall. The whole Vuelta…," he said of his season highlights. "I am getting to the end of my career and you start thinking about how long you want to be doing it, but those three weeks in general I had a great time with the guys, not just those two but the whole team. We were riding well and got some good results and it was nice to be part of. It still shows, even though I don't win very often at all, that's what's it all about. When I look back to a year before when Simon [Gerrans] won Quebec and Montreal and Daryl Impey won Alberta, that was a highlight of 2014 so even though it's not me winning I definitely feel it's the only goal in the races we start and satisfies me when we win as a team."
Improved showing at the classics and returning to the Tour de France
While Hayman is pulling his weight in his role as road captain, he is frank when discussing his two classics campaigns with Orica-GreenEdge that has seen him crack the top-40 on just one occasion in six monuments. The classics have been Hayman's calling as a professional cyclist with podium results at Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen along with two top-ten's at Paris-Roubaix the highlights in his body of work. After two lean years, Hayman is forthright in declaring he wants to return to his best in 2016.
"I came off some good seasons with Sky and I really wanted to ride in Aussie colours for Gerry and Shayne [team owner and general manager respectively, Ed] for Orica at the front of these races and I don't think I have shown them in the two seasons that I have done what I got to in a coupe of years with Sky," he said.
"There's been some disappointment there personally for me and it's not necessarily that I win them but I'd like to be around the mark again and have those guys be proud of what I am doing in those races. I can say I've had some bad luck, or this and that, but I'd like to string it all together and repay those guys for their faith in me and for signing me up.
"I think I am doing alright on the other end of the scale with the rest of the season but it's something I am super passionate about and there are guys in the team, whether they're riders, staff members, mechanics, or soigneurs, that also get super excited for those races and they are something that are special to all those people and I think we can do better as a team and I can do better individually."
In 2015 Hayman's early season saw him start the Australian nationals, Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar, Strade Bianchi, and Tirreno-Adriatico in preperation for the classics but there will be a few changes for his 2016 lead in as he explained to Cyclingnews to achieve his aforementioned goals.
"I'll be doing nationals, Tour Down Under, I'll be going to Cadel's race so that will be interesting and something nice to do and to support the races at home. Then it's off to a training camp so just missing Qatar and going into a similar programme with Strade Bianchi, Tirreno, Milan San Remo and I am pretty sure we are doing opening weekend now so that's Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne," he said of the early season.
"That’s another good chance for a team like ours to get the guys on the cobbles, on the equipment and make sure everything is dialled in so after Paris-Nice or Tirreno that we are all ready to go and everybody has had a dry run."
Beyond the Classics, Hayman is aiming on returning to the Tour de France having made his long awaited debut in 2014. He abandoned on the tenth stage, describing to the pain to Cyclingnews last year. "I was barely moving, already 45 minutes out of the time cut and couldn't face it anymore."
In his 16-year career, Hayman has started just eight grand tours since 2000, compare that to Adam Hansen who has ridden 13 straight since 2011, and is keen to make his ninth the Tour de France.
"I've put my hand up for the Tour again. It's still a long way away, the first goal is to do the classics. I still have some unfinished business there, I'd really like to ride it at a level I think I am capable of, similar to the level I was riding at the Vuelta. I wasn't really showing much there in results but I was quite valuable and would like to go to the Tour at the same kind of level. Nothing's guaranteed in this sport so who knows.
"At this point, I'll do the classics and try and prepare for that an then hopefully I am selected [for the Tour]. If not, then something similar to this year and go to the Vuelta again. I would like to work with Esteban again but it looks like he's on the Giro-Vuelta programme."
Mat Hayman will look to help Simon Gerrans win a record fourth Tour Down Under crown in January to kick off his 2016 season (TDW Sports)
Saddling up for another Worlds
Since his debut 15 years ago, Hayman has been selected for all but three World Championships, including Cadel Evans' 2009 gold medal, and while the Doha road race is 319 days away, another appearance in the green and gold kit is very much on his mind. Particularly with the parcours suiting the fast finishing characteristics of Ewan and several other national teammates.
"I've already thought about that and other guys have as well," he said of whether the Worlds have entered into his considerations of the 2016 season. "Even after the World Championships this year there are definitely guys who look at it. Simon has had a few runs when he's come close and I am not sure if it's something Michael Matthews will have a look at. He's fast and I have a feeling if everyone thinks it's sprint, it often isn't and maybe it's something he's still capable of doing well in.
"Sure I'd love to be there again and we have had a fair few silver medals now when I've been involved in so it would be good to win another one. We won one with Cadel and it's something I think about, it's always great to have the other guys come back from other teams. Even though I race in an Australian team now, it's a great atmosphere and something I look forward to every year. I guess Caleb is a big chance but maybe it's also a World Championships a little bit different to any other we've had."
"You have two guys who are very motivated, you have two guys who are extremely competitive and want to win a world championships. Like I said before, we have guys who can ride for medals almost every single year so that's another thing. It's been happening in the Belgian, Italian teams every single year that there are guys who feel they are capable to win the race so that was the situation."