The long road: Mathew Hayman, 39, cyclist
We were living outside Goulburn in New South Wales and my brother, who’s six years older than me, got hooked on cycling. I was just dragged along to races, really. I was on the farm when I got my first bike, and really remember that, getting a bike for Christmas. I can’t remember many other Christmas presents but I do remember that one.
After we moved to Canberra, I was 11 or 12 when I did my first race. I really liked the racing; I wasn’t always up for all the training. But also I found a group of friends. That’s been something that’s gone on through my whole career. Even if racing hasn’t been going great, I enjoy being on the road with the guys and that team atmosphere.
My brother Michael didn’t turn professional but he came over to Europe before me to race and he was someone I looked up to in the way he trained and went about everything. He went through a lot of stuff that I was also able to learn from. In the first years when I actually signed a contract to race over here as an amateur from ’97 until ’99 and as a professional from 2000 I got pretty homesick and was a bit unsure of myself. It’s hard to look back now and remember how different things were. I’m so used to being in Europe now. I’m living in Belgium, married to an Australian and I have twins who are seven months old and a six-year-old son.
In 2006 in Melbourne I won the Commonwealth Games road race – it was a pretty special day. I was there to help Allan Davis, the red-hot favourite, and everybody was looking to him. I was just doing the job of a teammate and then suddenly I was in the position of being able to win. It was pretty unexpected.
I haven’t been to an Olympics and that’s probably… I don’t have any regrets in sport, but that’s a bit of a sore one. London was probably my opportunity as far as the course goes – the last course [in Rio] didn’t suit me at all and I wasn’t really in the running – but, yeah, it hurts a little bit. But that’s life.
What was burning me more than never going to the Olympics was not riding in the Tour de France. It wasn’t until 2014, after I came to this team [Orica-Scott GreenEDGE, which is featured in the documentary All For One], which was pretty late. The first one I didn’t get to the finish – I had some health issues when I was about 10 days in. It’s a day I’ll never forget – having to get off the bike in a grand tour like that. Especially the Tour de France when you’ve been waiting pretty much your whole life to be there and it seemed to be going so well and then it all just came crumbling down.
Last year I finished the Tour de France for the first time. It was pretty sweet. The first time you turn onto the Champs-Élysées… it’s goosebumps and that kind of thing. It’s pretty iconic for a bike rider, that view from the peloton. The Tour de France is not about fun – you’re there to race every day. But still on the last day there’s a camaraderie with the guys you’ve been fighting it out with for the three weeks. It’s almost like everyone pats themselves on the back and recognises it’s good to get to the finish.
I’ve always been more of a classics rider – the one-day races on the cobblestones and the flatter races. To win the Paris–Roubaix on my 15th attempt… It’s 260 kays, 60 of that on the cobblestones. Not everybody’s suited to it and it’s kind of the one race where the team says, “You know, Mat, have a go, you don’t have to help anybody else.” I figured if I had a really good day I could maybe get on the podium, because I’d previously had a couple of top 10s. It was a bit of a fairytale to win. Every other day there’s somebody else in the team who’s normally got a better chance and I work to help them, and that’s just the way it is.
They use the word domestique, which is somebody who works for somebody else all the time. It’s probably hard for the general public to understand, but there’s a real art to riding for someone else and I’ve sort of carved a niche for myself. It’s also a livelihood for me and my family. I’ve got my job on the team and I do it well and I get the recognition for it.
If it wasn’t for this team, I probably wouldn’t be riding still. When you’re 20 and all you ever wanted to do was be a professional cyclist, you take a lot of the bad with the good and you just lump it. But I’ll be 40 next year, I’ve got three kids and I’m still on the road doing this. If I wasn’t having as much fun with the guys and still feeling vested, maybe I’d have already called it a day.
There are a lot of people out there who have their opinions [about drugs in cycling] and I guess it would be hard to change them. It’s hard to get people’s confidence that there’s been a cultural shift in the sport. Recently another rider tested positive and that’s impetus for people to say, “See, nothing’s changed.” But it’s a much cleaner sport now. When I came over as a pro in 2000 you had to have a pretty strong moral compass to do the right thing. The only thing I can say is that the sport has turned over a new leaf and I think it is in a really positive place.
I was in a crash in one of the lead-up races to Roubaix – I got a fracture through the radius in my forearm. Three days later I was on the home trainer in the garage. I was in a cast for 10 days or so, then had a brace on for a while. That’s another thing bike riders always say – a guy will crash and break his collarbone and he’ll say, “I’m lucky because I could have broken my leg as well.” I’ve had three or four [broken] collarbones, a couple of cracks in vertebrae and a punctured lung here or there, a couple of bones in the arm. But I’d say I’ve been pretty lucky.
This week’s highlights…
• NRL: Qualifying final – Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels
Saturday, 4.10pm (AEST), AAMI Park, Melbourne
• AFL: Elimination final – Sydney Swans v Essendon
Saturday, 4.20pm (AEST), Sydney Cricket Ground
• Rugby union: Wallabies v South Africa
Saturday, 6pm (AWST), nib Stadium, Perth
• Tennis: US Open – singles finals
Women’s, Sunday, 6am (AEST); men’s, Monday, 6am (AEST), Flushing Meadows, New York
• Motorsport: San Marino and Rimini Coast MotoGP
Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, Italy
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 9, 2017 as "The long road". Subscribe here.