Australia’s Mathew Hayman started Paris-Roubaix for the fifteenth time on Sunday, a long outsider at 800-to-1 and delivered a fairytale performance that will inspire those with any self-doubts that anything is possible and to keep chasing your dreams. It was a masterclass of perseverance and a lesson for us all.
Hayman made one mistake for the day in the post race interview when he said he was lucky. In the closing kilometres he went head-to-head with Tom Boonen, arguably the greatest of all time across the cobblestones. Luck had nothing to do with it Mat.
From the front group of five, doing battle across the final 20km, the form guide suggested Hayman was the least likely to win. Yet at 37, and having never been in a race winning position at Roubaix, his favourite race, he showed so much poise at a time when the enormity of what was confronting him would have cracked most others. Attack after attack from the other four with the big reputations – the legendary Tom Boonen, Sky’s Ian Standard, Lotto Jumbo’s Sep Vanmarcke and Team Dimension Data’s Edvard Bassoon Hagen – and Hayman didn’t flinch. He only reacted when he had to.
When it was just Hayman and Boonen at the front inside the last two kilometres, there must have been a temptation to race for his first podium finish. He resisted that temptation. He risked finishing fifth in pursuit of the win by minimizing how much he worked with the Belgian coming into the famed Roubaix velodrome, which allowed Stannard, Vanmarcke and Boasson Hagen to come back into contention. The tiny droplets of energy he saved in the final kilometres were used to win the sprint of his life.
The fact Mathew Hayman doesn’t have a Twitter, Instagram or Facebook account tells you a lot about the man. Maybe the universal reaction of his peers tells you more. He doesn’t race for the applause or adulation, he races for the love of the sport and his disbelieving, overwhelmed reaction post race was the stuff of legend. He now joins an honour roll that includes the aforementioned Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx, among other greats of the sport. The name Mathew Hayman will now sit proudly and appropriately amongst these giants of cycling.
Congratulations Mat and congratulations Orica-GreenEDGE.
Amstel Gold Race
Next stop on the classics calendar is the Netherlands and the Amstel Gold Race this coming Sunday. The youngest of the European one-day classics – first held in 1966 – Phil Anderson is the only Australian winner (1983). That may all change on Sunday.
All of the classics have their distinct characteristics – Milan-San Remo is a long grind, the Tour of Flanders has its cobbled climbs, Paris-Roubaix the brutal pave. The Amstel Gold Race is like a 255km hilly criterium. There are countless corners to negotiate as the race tries to find every little climb, in the Limburg region of one of the world’s flattest countries.
Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans, who finished fifth at this year’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, have both been on the podium in recent years and are genuine contenders for the win.The big question is can they work together, and continue an extraordinary year for Orica-GreenEDGE. There was tension between the two at the UCI Road World Championships last year when Matthews was second and criticised Gerrans who finished sixth for not doing more to help him win. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall in the pre and post race meetings despite their protestations otherwise that there were no issues. But they’re not the only Australians in with a chance.
H30 Challenge ambassador and Cannondale team leader Simon Clarke, has shown good form this year and having finished seventh at the world championships in 2013 in Florence, is proven over this sort of course. In fact I would be surprised if Clarke doesn’t move out of some his former teammate’s shadows this week in the Ardennes which feature Flèche Walloon and Liege-Bastogne-Liege as well as Amstel.
Australian cycling has never had so much depth at the pointy end of the peloton, but in the next week they won’t be without competition, including our Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race champions Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) and Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quickstep) who also line up for the favourable Ardennes Classics parcours that best resemble those Australia’s biggest one-day race.
Another exciting week beckons.
Follow Matthew Keenan on Twitter: @mwkeenan