Mathew Hayman is hoping for success for Team Sky during a weekend of hard racing in the Flanders region.
The Australian has been a stalwart of the team’s classics line-up since 2010 and has coupled strong team-work with some fine individual results on some of the toughest roads in cycling.
Hayman demonstrated what a valuable team member he is last Saturday at Milan-San Remo, the 33-year-old turning himself inside out in a bid to drag his team-mates back to the lead group at La Primavera, getting to within 45 seconds before the chasers finally admitted defeat.
The cobbled classics allow Hayman the chance to fight at the sharp end in his own right, with a string of consistent results marking him out as a contender in every Belgian town he rocks up to start a race in.
Hayman had the power to follow a decisive attack on the Taaienberg in February at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, eventually dropping back in a race which saw Juan Antonio Flecha claim third.
With his form continuing to build ahead of two races in the space of three days – E3 Prijs Vlaanderen (Friday) and Gent-Wevelgem (Sunday) – Hayman is ready to make his presence felt once again.
Team Sky have already tasted success at Het Nieuwsblad and twice at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne during little over two years in the peloton, results that Hayman feels may just be the start.
He said: “There’s no pressure from the team – only really excitement and encouragement from the Sports Directors in Servais [Knaven] and Steven [de Jongh] who have so much faith in us. They talk about how well everybody is going and the results we’ve got over the past couple of years. Outside of Bernie Eisel who is a pedigree rider and Mark Cavendish who has ear-marked a few Classics for the sprints, if you look at the rest of the squad Team Sky are developing a lot of these riders ourselves which is also nice to see.
“Guys like Ian Stannard and also normally Geraint Thomas are in that same boat. It’s not like we’ve just brought in a load of riders. This is a Classics team that’s been going for three years now and it’s pretty much a core group of guys. Flecha already had a lot of runs on the board but I think it’s the other guys who are lifting their standard in the last couple of years.”
Although he’s too modest to admit it, one of those riders is Hayman himself, a point proved at the end of last season with a long-awaited victory at semi-classic Paris-Bourges.
With a level of consistency few riders can match, does he now feel like a marked man when the time comes for a decisive selection?
“I think when you look at it there are so many favourites,” he reasons. “There’s riders who may or may not ride with me if we get away. So I don’t think I’m a favourite going into a race, but there are definitely riders over the last couple of years that I’ve thought ‘if I get away with that guy it could go to the finish.’ So maybe it’s an advantage being a bit of contender, so if I do get away with a few other riders in that category we could go to the finish.”
A major objective each and every season, the Classics unquestionably hold a special place in Hayman’s heart.
He admits: “I guess Roubaix is probably the one that’s my favourite as well as Flanders for what it is. In Australia we always talk about the Melbourne Cup which is a race that stops a nation; I think it’s the same for Tour of Flanders in Belgium.
"As far as Gent-Wevelgem is concerned, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with that one. I’ve been fourth there before and a couple of top 10s but I’ve also had some bad crashes there and broken bits of my body."