Australian Mat Hayman will race Paris-Roubaix for the seventh time tomorrow, but he’s yet to be on the winning team. He’s come close with Rabobank; Marc Wauters fourth in 2003 and Juan Antonio Flecha, second in 2007.
Sky hired him last year to support Flecha who finished third last year, and to help the team’s young riders like Geraint Thomas. This year, Hayman will support Flecha and Thomas, and also have a chance for himself.
“Bigger guys generally do well, like myself. It’s a different race, a bit special, set apart from the Tour of Flanders,” Hayman explained.
“I think this year you need to keep a good eye on Cancellara. His performance in Flanders wasn’t what he expected of himself, and he felt the bunch was racing against him, but I’m not sure. I think we were all racing our own race. Boonen attacked on a flat cobbled section; that’s not someone who’s just following Cancellara. I was riding my own race.”
Hayman’s best placing in Roubaix, 21st, came in 2009, after realising the race suited his abilities in 2002. Back then he sprinted for a place with Stuart O’Grady in the main group, and a love affair began.
“Every time I reach the velodrome, I am pretty excited,” he said.
“My hardest moment came a couple of years ago when I rode from Arenberg to the finish on my own. I had given Flecha my wheel. I rode around 100 kilometres solo, but I didn’t want to get off. I had been training for that race all year and had good legs.
“The finish and those showers, it’s just part of the history. I can probably shower in the bus, but I’d recommend to any rider that finishes Roubaix to shower in those showers. It’s part of it, it’s standing there and finding out what the other riders experienced. The euphoria of just being there… At that time, you don’t know the results, what happened. You can be showering next to someone who has bits of skin hanging off of him.”
He names Belgian Sep Vanmarcke as a possible future winner. Vanmarcke rode in an escape all day in E3 Prijs, and last year placed second at Ghent-Wevelgem. However, he expects two of Sky’s Brits to have a bright future: Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard.
“G showed that in the Tour de France. I also wouldn’t rule out Ian Stannard in the future, someone who’s got that much grunt. Someone who has a passion for the race, like Magnus [Backstedt]. You can’t go in there without being super passionate about that race, otherwise you’re not going to perform.”