'Introducing Mat Hayman'. It was a headline that appeared in a UK cycling magazine back in the early 2000s after the then young Australian from Camperdown had announced himself to the European peloton courtesy of some standout performances.
The one-page magazine feature centred around Hayman -then a second-year pro - and his most notable success up until that period – a win and the overall at the Challenge Mallorca. The title came after a long solo break that saw the promising Rabobank rider hold the peloton off by four minutes, with Erik Zabel and Robbie McEwen leading the chase for second and third. Back then, the Challenge Mallorca was a more keenly fought encounter than it is for the current generation – it's green, white, and blue leader's jersey one of the more recognisable maillot of the early season.
Even before his Balearic adventures Hayman had already been marked as a future star. He had finished second in the junior World time trial championships in Slovenia in 1996, just behind Italy's Simone Lo Vano, who vanished without a trace soon after, and one place ahead of the slightly more recognisable name of Yuriy Krivtsov.
"Back then, the Australian riders all knew each other because the Australian cycling community is pretty small back home," says Matt White, who was once part of the peloton that includes Hayman, and who now manages him at Orica-GreenEdge.
"Mat is about four years younger than me but back when we were racing domestically as kids we used to ride for the same state. I remember him getting that medal at Worlds and taking silver behind Mick Rogers at nationals too. He was always a talent as a young guy."
"He turned pro in one of the biggest Classics teams in the world but as a 21-year-old neo pro you don't always get a lot of chances for yourself," says White, who also forged a career as a no-nonsense domestique.
"I remember that win in Mallorca. He went for it on the first day, I think, with this really ballsy move. It must have been a comfortable winning margin because there's no way he would have got his arse over the mountains and held on for the overall otherwise.
"When he was in the Rabo development team he also won the Dutch nationals. He obviously couldn't wear the jersey but he did a few years with them, turned pro and I suppose he took his opportunity. Back then there was more of a hierarchy within teams and he was racing for guys like Erik Dekker and the like. Also from a personality point of view, he was such a good bloke and teammate. It's not surprise that someone like Oscar Freire, who rode with so many great riders, picked Mat in his dream team."
On Sunday in the Roubaix velodrome Hayman made history and now where there was once a career lacking in wins is the crown of one of the most treasured races in the sport. The outlay of blood and effort Hayman has made stretching over the last two decades has finally been repaid.
The magnitude of his win becomes all the more glaring when one considers that Hayman was a major doubt for the Classics after he broke a bone in his arm earlier in the season.
"He had only done a couple of days racing since February. I honestly thought that he would run out of legs on Sunday and I really don't think that anyone has ever won a Classic by preparing on a home trainer before," White adds, making Hayman's success even more of a story.
"When I spoke to the doctors after his crash I had written him off for the Classics. At the time of his injury the doctors said that if it had happened a few weeks earlier he might have a chance of still riding the Classics but he needed a minimum of four weeks off the road.
"That took him until April 1. I didn't talk to Mat straight away after his crash but when I did, a few days later, he said 'I've been doing three hours a day on the trainer.' I was on the other end of the phone thinking 'fuck this guy is motivated'. But I thought that there was no way he could get back. It was all in the doctor's hands and he got a check up on March 30 to see if the fracture healed and he went out for a ride that morning, before the check up, and with a brace on. The doctor gave him the all clear. He wanted to ride Flanders, but we wouldn't let him because the bone was still healing. We took him to Spain and he did Indurain Rioja and the recon went well. I said he could do Roubaix because we were desperate for riders. We gave him the freedom to ride it and well, he was away."
Freedom and selflessness are not two qualities that often dovetail together in the careers of professional sportsmen but for the likes of Juan Antonio Flecha, Erik Dekker, Caleb Ewan, Freire and many others, Hayman has been the dutiful teammate. His conservative nature, privacy and shyness have been documented before – he once put the phone down on Cyclingnews when Gert Leinders was brought up, before giving a fuller and franker interview to The Sunday Times – but we once sat with the Australian for nearly two hours in a hotel on Kortrijk and talked about the sectors of pave at Roubaix and his former teammates. After finishing one edition of Roubaix during his Sky days his first words to waiting journalists who asked about his ride were 'how did Juan Antonio do?'
"What happened on Sunday, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," White says.
"No matter what happens in the next year and a half his win in Roubaix caps an excellent career and one that's been spent mainly in the services of others.
"The thing about Mat is that he gets pissed off with himself and others when we don't get things right, whether it's the biggest or the smallest race. It sets such a big example. He makes every day count and he has that attitude from January from October. He's the guy who starts in Nationals with us and he's the guy who sets us up in Abu Dhabi. He loves it.
"You know we made him at offer when Sky started and I tried to sign him over to Discovery when I was riding there and Mat was at Rabobank. He's a very conservative guy but as a directeur sportif, having him around at any race is incredibly valuable because I've got a guy who I trust and who can give me eyes and ears on the road. For the younger guys on the team he’s a mentor."
One day a mentor, the next day a winner. It's only taken 15 years.
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