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In a nod to the cancelation of the Australian international cycling calendar, we are turning our gaze Down Under for a week of feature stories, interviews, historical analysis, and other content to celebrate Australian cycling as part of Aussie Week.
If I were a pro cyclist, I’d want to retire in the same way as Mathew Hayman.
The Aussie veteran closed out his career in the summer sun with a beer in his hand, toasting a team win in front of a home crowd. Undoubtedly there were many more beers to be had once then-40-year-old Hayman crossed the line atop Willunga Hill to end his life as a rider at the 2019 Tour Down Under.
“I won’t forget it, that’s for sure,” Hayman told VeloNews. “Finishing on top of Willunga with a great crowd, people handing me beers on the last climb, a few teammates around me, and then hearing that we had won the race. It was a great night as well.”
- Welcome to Aussie Week
- Paris-Roubaix redux: Mat Hayman recounts his miracle win of 2016
- Mat Hayman closes out career atop Old Willunga Hill
For the first time in its history, the Tour Down Under was set to finish atop Willunga Hill rather than with its traditional city center circuit race in Adelaide. It made for the perfect amphitheater to give the Aussie veteran the send-off his 19-year career deserved.
That Hayman had just helped his Mitchelton-Scott teammate Daryl Impey seal the GC on the race’s very final stage made the beer he was handed by the partying throng taste all the sweeter.
“We won that race with Daryl on the last day on Willunga so that was a really nice way to end – it was almost a fairytale ending to win the race and to finish my career there,” Hayman said. “And it’s always a full team effort to win Down Under. Every time we’ve won it, it’s based around seconds and having to race every day – that’s something I really enjoy.”
Having turned pro in the year 2000, by 2018, Hayman knew it was about time to hang up the wheels on a career that scooped him an unforgettable Paris-Roubaix victory and a number of major scores in the one-day races.
His initial hope had been to retire in the green and gold of his national jersey at the world championships, but along came the news that the race would take place on a puncheur‘s course around Innsbruck, a route not exactly suited to Hayman’s burly frame.
“I remember [teammate] Mitch Docker talking to me years ago about how would you want to retire, and the first thing that came to mind would be at the world championships. It feels like it’s the pinnacle of our sport. You’re riding in your Australian jersey and that’d be a nice way to finish your career. But then of course the worlds were in Austria,” Hayman explained in a telephone interview.
“It just came around that if it can’t be at the world championships, then why not go through to January,” he said. “The Tour Down Under was the obvious place to stop, and the team was happy to support me with that. It ticked a lot of boxes. For us [Mitchelton-Scott, now Team Bike Exchange] the Tour Down Under is really important – we’re an Australian team with many Australian sponsors and backers and supporters. And of course, it’s my home race, it’s something special.”
As an Australian rider on an Australian team, to retire in front of friends, family, and home fans in the mid-summer sun rather than the anonymity of a closing-season one-dayer was worth the extra months of training. And as Hayman pointed out, the relatively benevolent conditions of the Tour Down Under meant that his winter of training after closing out 2018 at the October Japan Cup wasn’t too onerous.
“Preparing for that was a lot different than preparing for a whole season and all the classics,” he said. “People were like ‘Well, if you’ve done that, why wouldn’t you keep going?’ But we’re talking about shorter stages and just working on some intensity. You can come up [in fitness] quick for that, whereas going through racing through Paris-Nice, Tirreno, and getting through all the classics, you might as well ride through a whole year … and I didn’t want to go all the way through to Roubaix, to be honest!”
The home crowd duly stepped up to see off the stalwart rouleur as it celebrated a first-ever Down Under finish atop the iconic Willunga climb some 24 months ago. Three-deep crowds cheered Hayman every meter of the way up the 2.9km climb as riders congratulated him on his marathon tenure in the peloton.
“It was a real party atmosphere on Willunga,” Hayman said. There’s a lot of atmosphere on that climb. There were a lot of friends there, my whole family was there at the top of the climb. It was pretty special. Yeah, it was. It was really great.”