Mathew Hayman was an obvious omission from the Australian long list for the UCI Road World Championships when it was announced last week, but for the 34-year-old it was a case of enduring short-term pain for long-term gain.
The Sky Procycling domestique and classics specialist underwent arthroscopic surgery to a tear in his left labrum - the cartilage that holds the ball at the top of the femur to the pelvic bone - on August 2. Hayman had thought it was a muscular injury for some years and had always just dealt with the discomfort but there was something that drove him to biting the bullet and fixing the issue once and for all. Training with Bobby Julich. The Australian has been working with the Sky race coach since late 2011.
"I could have just soldiered on for however many years I'm going to race for with a bit of pain and just lumped it," Hayman told Cyclingnews. "I feel as if the training that I've done this year with Bobby that I'm still improving. I still feel like I'm a young kid who wants to get out there and do better and get better results."
It was still by no means an easy decision for Hayman to make. He admits to "pushing because you never really want to stop, especially when you've got good form" but Sky said that it wasn't worth the risk to continue and given the team's UCI points lead, there was no better time to have the injury taken care of.
"I don't mind doing this operation and stopping early," said Hayman. "It's something that I feel every day in training and I feel in racing. It's hard enough as it is."
From his home, Hayman can "almost see" the finish of the road race course in Valkenburg. It's a part of his training ground, he knows it well and it's a terrain where Hayman excels. Then he adds a subtle reminder: "I know the course but at world championships you do enough laps - everybody knows the course."
With world championships essentially playing out like a classic year after year, Hayman knows that there is generally a job for him in the Australian line up.
"If it's a flattish race it can be last man in the lead out like second-last guy in Denmark last year or if it's too hilly then it's early stuff," he said.
Australia will choose a team of nine for the road race from Simon Clarke, Cadel Evans, Allan Davis, Simon Gerrans, Adam Hansen, Heinrich Haussler, Michael Matthews, Cameron Meyer, Richie Porte, Michael Rogers, Rory Sutherland, and David Tanner. Considering Stuart O'Grady is also unavailable through injury, 2012 is almost a transitional year for the Cyclones given two likely automatic selections won't be on the start line on September 23. But there remains plenty of experience to keep the team in the hunt.
"You'd be disappointed without a podium," said Hayman with the onus on the team to deliver a result. "That's what Australians expect now. Once you've won it and you've had seconds and thirds consistently, gone are the days that top 10 is a great performance."
Rolling the dice
By no means is Hayman complaining about his season. Hayman earned his best-ever result at Paris-Roubaix in 2012, 8th bettering his 10th in 2011 and 21st in his 2009 debut. The fact that he was able to at all is a reflection of his personal grit. An Achilles problem flared up during Tirreno-Adriatico and his months of training in preparation for the classics threatened to crumble into the abyss but instead he ride through the pain.
"I ended up saving most of the classics and I was able to race, but it wasn't ideal," Hayman admitted.
When it comes to Roubaix, his 8th place was more than just a result. Something you only need to watch the race to realise. Sky had the numbers with Hayman and Ian Stannard rotating on the front of the peloton, keeping Edvald Boasson Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha out of trouble. But what was left of the bunch appeared to decide to let Sky do all the work as winner Tom Boonen took off with 50-odd kilometres left to race.
"The tactics played a part in that and maybe I could have finished higher up," Hayman mused. "Had we decided at 50-60km to go that we were just going to ride for a podium that could have been different and probably I could have had more of a chance of doing something."
Asked if he sees himself earning a protected role for Roubaix in 2013, Hayman is loath to accept the title.
"There are options and I'll remain a team player but that being said, I look back at Roubaix and see that as a bit of a missed opportunity," he told Cyclingnews. "I would like to have a few more opportunities for sure. I don't think it's a fact of ‘you're the leader and you're not' and that's it for the next three weeks. We're all mature. I don't like that whole thing of people having to be team leaders or it having to be put on paper as this guy's the leader and this guy isn't. You ride bike races and we talk to each other."
Hayman hasn't ridden a grand tour since the Giro d'Italia in 2010 but he's given himself every chance to. Last year he got close, having put his hand up for the Tour de France only to crash warming up at the prologue of the Tour de Suisse and breaking a couple of ribs. He was putting all his eggs in one basket and had the option to ride the Vuelta a España but instead chose to race the one dayers which he was better suited to. It was a decision that paid off, claiming his first win in five year as he beat compatriot Baden Cooke at Paris-Bourges.
This year, having made a similar choice regarding his plans for the 2012 season late in 2011, with hindsight he thinks that perhaps the Giro may have been the better option.
"With Cavendish coming into the team I thought I would have more of a chance and I was pretty close last year," Hayman said admitting that he would have put his hand up for the Vuelta this year had it not been for his surgery. "The more races that Wiggins won the more it seemed that they were going to take a team just weighed towards him... Grand tours are grand tours. I'm not particularly a grand tour rider so I don't need to ride two a year."
Before ending his season at the Tour of Poland, Hayman was on form and he knows it. There are races that he would have liked to have done - Olympic Games, Tour de France, world championships - but he knows there will be other chances and he will put in the effort to get what he wants. Hayman will be good when he needs to be.
"It's going to be a hard few months over Christmas because I'm going to have to put in those hard yards that I'm missing by not riding the Vuelta," he said. "I'm enjoying family at the moment because there's going to be some six hour rides coming up."