It’s almost a cliché to think about Mathew Hayman at this time of the year.
Alongside cobblestone greats Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, Hayman is the rider perhaps most readily associated with Paris-Roubaix, which had been scheduled to take place this weekend.
Hayman took a miraculous Roubaix win in 2016 having done much of his pre-race preparation on an indoor trainer with his broken arm propped on a stepladder. The story of the Aussie stalwart’s comeback from the injury he sustained just six weeks before taking victory in the velodrome is one that never gets old, and Hayman gets asked about it every spring.
It’s a tale he’s not getting bored of telling just yet.
“I have no issue with being known for the Roubaix win, even if people do ask about it a lot,” Hayman told VeloNews. “There’s a lot worse things to be associated with than with Paris-Roubaix after all.”
Cycling’s great story of victory against-all-odds is rolled out year after year in advance of Roubaix, and 42-year-old Hayman, now working as sport director with Team BikeExchange, fields similar questions every time.
For a rider that had spent decades fascinated by and dreaming of winning the “Hell of the North,” Hayman doesn’t tire of the intrigue of his almost beyond-belief victory in 2016.
“It [Roubaix] was my favorite race, and I like the idea that it’s a race that rewards persistence,” Hayman said. “It’s one for the older guys and for the harder guys, so if you want to refer to a race and me at the same time then I’m quite happy that it’s that race.”
Before his cobbles-conquering ride in 2016, Hayman’s best result out of 14 efforts at Paris-Roubaix was eighth place in 2012, finishing in the first chase group behind winner Boonen.
Four years after his top-10 finish, Hayman rolled to the startline in Compiègne with just two weeks of training on the road in his legs. Some 260 kilometers later, the Aussie denied Boonen a record fifth winner’s stone with a sprint victory that almost nobody predicted.
#GREENEDGEmemories | Mathew Hayman winning Paris-Roubaix at his 15th attempt after coming back from a broken arm to beat the best cobble rider of all times. No surprise the 2016 edition has been elected the best road racing moment of the decade many times!#NOSHORTCUTS pic.twitter.com/sZCo2Yc8nc
— SCOTT Bike (@bikeonscott) November 26, 2020
“If someone had told me this morning I’d win Paris-Roubaix, I wouldn’t have believed them, no way,” he said at the time. “Other years, I’d dared to dream about it and in other years I felt good. This year was different. This race is huge for me. If you speak to anyone at Orica-GreenEdge, they know this is the one race that is really special for me. It’s the one race I talk about from October and I’ve done it 15 times now, and I always finished it.”
Hayman’s victory on the pavé capped a career marked by his selfless service to teammates while rarely being afforded the freedom to race for his own results.
It’s the ability for Roubaix to produce a surprise, with winners coming from all manner of riders and a range of situations, that made the cobbled classic so alluring to the now-retired rouleur.
“The Tour of Flanders was always above my level as far as the amount of climbing and how hard it was, but Roubaix seems to be harder in different ways. And that makes it open to a broader bunch of guys, a lot of riders dream of being able to do well there,” Hayman said in a call last week. “We see some winners that are not your traditional winners popping up there all the time, so it’s not the first time that somebody who has been a worker or domestique has won that race.”
The news last week that both Paris-Roubaix men’s and women’s races have been postponed to the fall sent ripples of disappointment through riders and fans alike.
As a Roubaix fanatic with a role in the BikeExchange director’s chair through the spring classics, Hayman is likely one of the most hopeful that the race is able to be staged in October. Last year, the race was similarly postponed from April then scrapped from the autumn schedule due to a resurgence of COVID in France.
“At least it’s still due to go ahead, albeit later in the year,” he said. “We can’t have two years in a row where someone doesn’t get to realize their dream.”