At the start of Paris-Roubaix in the town of Compiegne, Matthew Hayman (Orica-Greenedge) wasn’t even a dark horse. He was a solid and respected road captain that did his job for the team, helping someone faster and stronger aim for victory.
Nobody expected him to win — the bookmaker odds were 800-1 — and nobody expected to even see much of him once the race turned serious, post Carrefour de l’Arbre. Seriously, the man had broken his arm five weeks before and Sunday in the velodrome he broke the hopes of Tom Boonen, Sep Vanmarcke, Ian Stannard and Edvard Boasson Hagen.
He’d already done more than asked by making the breakaway group and then, when the Boonen group caught and crushed them, he was the only escapee to stick on their wheels. At that point, he’d already had a miracle ride. Better than his 8th place in 2012. Congratulations, chapeau, now stay out of the way of the big boys while they go about winning the Hell of the North.
Somehow, some way, as the front group, tete de la course, whittled down in size, Hayman remained in contention. An afterthought that would not go away. He was on a magical, one-in-a-lifetime day and everybody watching the race had to be happy for the journeyman, getting a last big moment in a Monument. Well done, Matthew, stay at the back please as Mr. Boonen plans to win his fifth Paris-Roubaix, something no man has ever done.
There was almost a sense of surprise and shock, as the kilometers and pave sections counted down, that there he was, still the outsider in a select group of stars — the classics captains of Etixx-Quickstep, Sky, Lotto-Jumbo and Dimension Data. In 15 rides in Paris-Roubaix, he’s never gotten anywhere near a podium. Surely, he was out of his element, sure to be the first dropped when the final attacks came, the slow fade inevitable and honorable.
And yet, Hayman was not content to sit at the back and count his blessings. He put in his own attack, matching Boonen, Vanmarcke and Stannard. More revealing was the look on his face and his body language. He approved fresh, smooth on the bike, matching the accelerations and last ditched efforts of his rivals.
It was Hayman who joined Boonen as the first two men on to the track of the velodrome. A bit of shadow boxing enabled Vanmarcke, Boasson Hagen and Stannard to make it a five man sprint. Again, there was no money down on Hayman to beat Boonen who seemed sure to receive a push from destiny, the narrative so close to a storybook ending. Surely the Cycling Gods had has cast their votes for Boonen, a fifth Paris-Roubaix title and instant retirement in full glory.
And what about Stannard? The last surviving member of Sky’s four riders who had made the front group before crashes took them out. The big budget team had done everything right this year and the big likable lug was a deserving winner.
For Sep Vanmarcke, the stage was also set. Not a great sprinter but who is after 257 kilometers with 52k of cobblestones. After his heartbreak second place in a two-up sprint against Fabian Cancellara two years ago, didn’t he merit the victory? Wasn’t he more likely than Hayman to dig deep and confirm his reputation as a classics star?
And what of Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen? After his switch to MTN-Qhubeka two years ago he began rebuilding his career and his race results. Now re-tagged as Dimension Data, the understated Boasson Hagen has posted consistent results this season and had ridden the perfect race. Arguably the fastest sprinter in the group, wasn’t he the favorite on the track?
There were four stars all looking to build their palmares and one journeyman with nothing to lose. Four favorites and one 800-to-1 long shot. “Roubaix is a race that throws up a special winner every few years,” said Hayman. “Every few years, it’s guys like Van Summeren or O’Grady, they’ve always been up there, in the front, racing well, and if the stars align, like they did for me today, it’s possible.”
The four stars did align perfectly — all of them at the finish line and behind Matthew Hayman.