ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Paris-Roubaix is a race that can deliver surprise winners every few years, and no one was more stunned Sunday to see Australian journeyman Matthew Hayman win a thrilling Paris-Roubaix than the man himself.
“The only emotion is total disbelief,” the Orica – GreenEdge rider said. “I’ve done my time. I’ve raced 15 Roubaixs, and I’ve finished them all. Sometimes you just have to go for it, and sometimes good things happen. It’s pretty surreal to be sitting here.”
In the tradition of Stuart O’Grady and Johan Vansummeren, two other recent outsiders who won cycling’s “Hell of the North,” Hayman bowled over the favorites on a windy Sunday in northern France to join O’Grady as Paris-Roubaix’s only non-European winners.
“Roubaix is a race that throws up a special winner every few years,” Hayman said. “Every few years, it’s guys like Vansummeren or O’Grady, they’ve always been up there, in the front, racing well, and if the stars align, like they did for me today, it’s possible.”
Before Sunday’s big battle across the pavé, Hayman wasn’t even mentioned as a contender. The five-star rankings belonged to others. Hayman thought his classics season was over when he fractured the radius bone in his right arm at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in late February.
Racing without any pressure, Hayman’s plucky cool came in handy at the end of a wild Roubaix that saw pre-race favorites Fabian Cancellara of Trek – Segafredo and Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan caught up behind a mid-race crash. Making his victory even more astonishing is that Hayman stopped Tom Boonen of Etixx – Quick-Step from winning a record fifth Roubaix in a five-man sprint.
“I would have liked to have seen [Boonen] win and get the record, to be honest,” Hayman said. “I could see the others had pressure to win. I would have been happy with the podium, and I was able to sit in and save my energy. There was no way I thought it would up like this. I am sure Tom is going to have sleepless nights.”
Things unfolded in Hayman’s favor. He rode into a breakaway after earlier attempts were snuffed, and then had the legs to hang on when the big names bridged across — which included Boonen, Ian Stannard (Sky), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL – Jumbo), and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data). He thought his chances were cooked when Vanmarcke surged clear on the Carrefour de l’Arbre with less than 20 kilometers to go, a move that trimmed the front group to five.
“At that point, I thought I would be lucky to get fifth, or even get caught by the next group,” Hayman said. “I was gapped, and I just went at my own pace, but they weren’t getting away, and that’s when I started to think those guys were not that superior to me. I was able to gamble today, and it paid off.”
Hayman played it smart, and countered when Boonen made a late-race surge. Boonen was magnanimous in defeat, saying he was surprised to see Hayman so strong so deep into the Roubaix final.
“Mat really deserves it,” Boonen said. “I think he was the rider that no one was looking at in the group. Edvald is fast, Ian is strong, and Sep is smooth over the cobbles. I went when it felt like a good moment [with less than 3km to go], and when Mat passed me, I thought he played it smart.”
The Australian, who turns 38 in less than two weeks, is a veteran with an unabashed love affair with the cobbles. He turned pro with Rabobank in 2000, and after a four-year stint with Team Sky, he joined Orica in 2014. Roubaix was always his race, so when he crashed in February, he didn’t want to give up on Roubaix without trying.
“The doctors were pretty sure my classics were done,” he said. “I was in my own virtual world, riding the home trainer two sessions a day. I had worked since October to be ready for the classics, and I didn’t want to lose all that form. I had a fair feeling the legs were good, but I couldn’t have dreamed of this.”
Hayman only returned to racing last weekend in Spain for a pair of one-day races. His teammate and budding classics rider Luke Durbridge said Hayman was sounding confident on the team bus before the start in Compiègne.
“He said he was feeling good, and when he says that, you know it will be a good day,” Durbridge said. “This is the race he loves the most, so to see him win, it’s just massive for him.”
Typically a worker for Orica’s Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans, Hayman is allowed to take flight on the cobbles. With two top-10s in 15 starts, it wasn’t a complete surprise to see him ride in with the favorites, but even he admitted it was “surreal” to be entering the velodrome with everything in play.
“I didn’t have to prove anything. Anything that I did would be a bonus,” he said. “A lot of riders are able to live off that drive that it might happen to them one day at Roubaix. I am proof.”