Lead Photo – Cycling Weekly/Watson
Professional sport can be both kind and cruel. Not matter what heights of glory or fame are achieved, there will inevitably come the day when the ability fades and retirement looms. For some, the transition is easy and made on their terms; for others, the end of a career is premature or simply enforced by a body unwilling or unable to continue.
For example, Bernard Hinault retired in 1986 at the age of 32. True to his nature, it was his call. Could he have ridden a few more, highly paid years? I’m sure he could, but Hinault was a born winner and he had no desire to be uncompetitive. Cycling can be spectacularly cruel in revealing weakness. In most sports you finish on the same field of play at the same time. Not so much in cycling. It’s hard to hide the fact that you’ve just finished 10 minutes behind the winner because you just don’t have it anymore.
Ask Andy Murray or Lindsay Vonn about retirement. A trashed hip and buggered-up knees respectively have called time on their careers. Both ended their careers far from home. The mental side is willing, the body is not.
For recently retired pro Mathew Hayman, retirement was sweet – on his terms and on home turf. It was nothing more than he deserved. A journeyman pro, a pro’s-pro, Hayman was a professional cyclist for nineteen years and retired at the grand old age of 40. Over that career he really only rode for three teams Rabobank (2000-2009), Team Sky (2010-2013) and Orica Green Edge (2014-2019 in various iterations). His palmares aren’t lengthy or spectacular (with one exception) but he gained the respect of his peers in the peloton and of the millions who watch.
That one exceptional ride was, of course, the 2016 Paris-Roubaix, a race with a special place in Hayman’s heart as he had ridden it as a neo-pro in 2000. He knew his opportunities were getting fewer to win a race he loved and in 2016 (his fourteenth attempt) there was the added obstacle of it being four-time-winner Tom Boonen’s final race – and final chance to set a new record of five cobblestone trophies.
Hayman’s previous best result in the velodrome was 8thin 2012, but in 2016 it all came together with the tall Aussie (6’ 3”) being in a select group of five by the time the race hit Roubaix. Boonen was there, so was Britain’s Ian Stanndard, Belgium’s Sep Vanmarke and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen – any one of whom would be a worthy winner.
By the time the group hit the last few kilometers, it was apparent that everyone in the group was on fumes. Attacks were made and nullified as tired legs couldn’t sustain the effort. As all five hit the track, it was going to be a sprint. Boonen, whose sprint prowess and love of the race made him an obvious favorite gave it his all but was beaten to the line by Hayman who, despite what his eyes had seen and his legs had accomplished, was in pure disbelief that he had won. The congratulations showered upon him, notably from the gracious Boonen, were genuine and heartfelt. There have been a few flukey wins at Roubaix over the years, but this time, it was a case of well-deserved.
Boonen retired immediately – as he said he would before the race. Hayman didn’t. He stayed with the team for two more years, offering sage advice and wisdom to his team’s new crop of talented youngsters such as Esteban Chaves, Simon Yates and Adam Yates. But father time pedals on and Hayman was presented with the luxury of calling time on his racing days – and that was at the 2019 Tour Down Under. There, on home soil, he was tasked with helping the 2018 winner Darryl Impey defend his title. And helped he did with Impey becoming the first rider in the race’s history to repeat overall victory.
For Hayman,it was the perfect ending to a great career: home soil, winning team. He was lucky and he knew it to be going out on his terms. He will stay on with Mitchelton-Scott. This is a smart move by the team. “It takes so many years to learn those races and it’s so close to me now, in three to five years I might not have that feeling of what it was like to be in the bunch anymore,” Hayman has said. “Hopefully I can transfer some of that knowledge really quickly and help out some of the young guys, and maybe with a Luke or Trentin we can get some results.” As I said, a pro’s pro.
The last word I’ll leave to Luke Durbridge, who was possibly as ecstatic as Hayman was in shock at the finish at Roubaix. And while he was talking about one particular race, it really could sum us his friend’s career when he said it was “one for the good guys.”