• Virtual to reality... Mathew Hayman wins the 2016 edition of Paris-Roubaix.
The significance of Mathew Hayman's victory may only be properly understood by cycling aficionados - but then again, Paris-Roubaix is a race for the aficionado, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
12 Apr 2016 - 3:02 PM 

Among the cycling community in Australia, at least those who care about the professional side of the sport, there appears to be a collective high.

For me, though, it's different to Cadel Evans' world road championship victory in Mendrisio in 2009, or even his Tour de France triumph two years later.

"I think the major thing was, I was prepared to lose."

It's different also to Matthew Goss winning Milan-San Remo in 2011, or Simon Gerrans' winning Liège–Bastogne-Liège in 2014.

It's perhaps most similar to Stuart O'Grady's cobbled conquest in the same race in 2007 - yet even that feels different.

Why?

It's a question I've been continually asking myself in the hours since Mathew Hayman won the 114th edition of Paris-Roubaix.

In part, I think it's because unlike Evans, Goss and O'Grady, Hayman's name, until last Sunday, did not carry with it the same cachet. In his previous 16 years as a professional cyclist he has never been one of the stars - and that's the way he seems to like it. The quintessential domestique; the archetypal underdog; the unassuming nature... almost makes him invisible at times, despite his physical stature.

OGE's Backstage Pass: 2016 Paris-Roubaix
Watch the behind the scenes action and insights of Mathew Hayman's incredible Paris-Roubaix victory.

Inside the final 20 kilometres on the five-star-rated Carrefour de l'Arbre, the incident with Ian Stannard, a former team-mate when he was at Team Sky, appeared to suggest likewise; that Hayman didn't have a place to fight among the protagonists. Defiantly, he showed that he did.

Obviously, there's the remarkable comeback-from-injury story that has probably seen bike shops the world over sell out of turbo trainers.

The fracture to his radius bone in his right arm happened at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, on February 27. Exactly six weeks later, he wins the toughest one-day race on the calendar.

Even now, almost forty-eight hours later, it's hard to comprehend.

"I was introduced to a virtual world," he told RIDE Cycling Review's Rob Arnold (interview here), speaking about his twice-daily sessions on the home trainer for five weeks straight, each session roughly an hour-and-a-half long.

I gather this where his initial suspension of disbelief emanated after outsprinting Tom Boonen in the Roubaix velodrome and he stepped off his bike, looking incredulous, eyes wide open, as the team's video producer, Dan Jones, reassured him he'd done it. Hayman had been living in the virtual world of his garage for so long and had become so accustomed to the environs, even by the race start in Compiègne that day, he still wasn't quite there.

Aside from two one-day races in Spain the weekend before Paris-Roubaix, Hayman's real-life contact with the professional racing world was non-existent. From the moment he broke his arm to the moment he won the most beautiful one-day race in the world, it was all unchartered territory.

Last Sunday in northern France, for eight minutes and seven seconds short of six hours he relied on nothing but instinct. "I think the major thing was, I was prepared to lose," he told RIDE, echoing what Michael Rogers said in Bagnères-de-Luchon when he won Stage 16 of the 2014 Tour de France.

Hayman had nothing to lose and everything to win. Conversely, Tom Boonen, Sep Vanmarcke, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Stannard were in the exact opposite situation.

It would be remiss not to mention the graciousness shown by Boonen, the one who had the most to lose, yet who, from the images we saw, clearly understood the significance of the victory. It felt as though Hayman was the person the four-time winner least minded losing Roubaix to - which says everything about the 37-, soon to be 38-year-old, Canberran.

"It kind is one of the Monuments that keeps guys dreaming."

Surely after Sunday, they'll be more guys like Hayman dreaming for a day like his.

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