With the departures Baden Cooke and self-confessed drug cheat Stuart O'Grady, 35-year-old Mathew Hayman's move from Team Sky to Orica-GreenEdge could play vital leadership role in a team that won 34 races last season from 16 different team riders.
After spending four years at Team Sky, the 2006 Commonwealth Games road race gold medalist "came home" in August by signing with Australia's first – and only – WorldTour team, but insists this is not his Swan song. "I am not backing off, as I am so focused on my cycling at the moment," the New South Wales-native told Cyclingnews. "This is not just two years at GreenEdge to ride it out. I am still trying to improve myself and I am still training hard as ever."
Known primarily for his supporting role at Sky and Rabobank, in which he served as a selfless domestique for nine years, Hayman has already served GreenEdge well in the past month while contributing the team and – primarily – Simon Gerrans capture his second Australian men's national road race championship and his third victory at the UCI WorldTour season opener – the Santos Tour Down Under – a new race record.
"It's been good so far," he said. "There was a lot of pressure racing the national championships and the Tour Down Under, but we came up trumps in both races and Gerrans is on fire."
Hayman says he is excited about his new team and the seamless integration into the GreenEdge program.
"It has been surprisingly easy to slip into the team," he said. "Being selected for the Tour Down Under was a big boost of confidence and everybody wants to ride that race.
"It was a big pressure-cooker for us, but that is why we are here and you're not a professional athlete if you don't want to race the biggest races and best competition."
With O'Grady's and Cooke's departures, and Hayman feels no immediate pressure to step into the leadership role, and says that while teammates like Matt Goss, Daryl Impey and Gerrans may not the years behind them, they certainly have the experience.
"I've got a bit of experience, but don't think [Orica-GreenEdge] has inexperienced bike riders," Hayman said. "Guys like Gossy, Impey and Gerrans may be younger, but they have been racing for years and years, and have proven quite successful."
One rider that Hayman will be looked to mentor will be reigning U23 Australian men's national road race – and criterium – champion Caleb Ewan, aged 19. Ewan, who signed a pro contract with GreenEdge last October, is currently riding for the national Jayco-AIS team before joining GreenEdge in August. But Hayman is taking a less-is-more approach with the young cycling prodigy – who finished 98th overall amongst the 138-rider WorldTour field.
"Caleb is on a massive learning curve, and this year he has started the rollercoaster already," said Hayman in reference to a stage two crash at the Tour Down Under. "He was on cloud nine after the criterium and to crash out two days later is what it’s all about.
"I haven't offered him any advice at the moment," he added. "I think he has about 1,000 people offering him advice at the moment, so I'll steer clear of that one until the time is right."
The one race that has eluded Hayman in his long career is his most prized – the Tour de France. Hayman makes no secret of his desire to ride cycling's grandest tour at least once in his career, but holds no illusions that this will be the year. But he still holds hope.
"The Tour de France is the pinnacle of cycling," he said. "Nobody wants to be in France in the middle of July and not have form. I have a good program and I have to work through that program. If I am one of the nine best riders on my team and there is a spot for me then I promise I will be gunning for it.
"In the end, it's a team decision and I'm a team player, so you have to put the best team on the road in July."
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