As we enter the final build up to Paris Roubaix it's a good time to reflect on last year’s stunning race, and the events that followed. For those that need reminding, the 2016 Paris-Roubaix was a vintage edition, the best for many years.
Emerging from the carnage after a day spent in the breakaway was 500/1 outsider Mathew Hayman, 37 years young, making his 15th attempt at the Queen of the Classics. The price was perhaps a little unfairly steep, given a history of top ten finishes, but the facts were plain enough: Hayman was one of the sport’s helpers, not a podium finisher.
But Roubaix is different. She rewards the brave, the lucky, the strong - and after 250km sometimes the form book can lie. Hayman won gloriously, outsprinting none other than Roubaix record-holder Tom Boonen to raise his hands in exhausted disbelief in Roubaix’s crumbling, iconic velodrome. The end of a truly remarkable and unlikely tale.
And this is where our story starts.
In the summer of 2016, Hayman got in touch with The Handmade Cyclist. He had seen our Panache prints and had a proposal: could we create a bespoke print for him to celebrate his victory, for him to give as gifts of thanks to his teammates, colleagues and helpers?
Some weeks later, the artwork was finished, and it was a nervous Handmade Cyclist indeed who unveiled it to Hayman. As with all our prints, we tried to capture the atmosphere of the landscape, the dust, the flatlands of northern France. We wanted to portray the moment when Hayman briefly went solo of the front of the race, if only for the sheer romance of it. But it's one thing creating a stylised vision of iconic races and routes, quite another doing so for the rider in the image themselves.
The finishing touch was a quote requested by Hayman himself, his motto for the race, ‘Always Keep Riding’. For you never know what will happen, so long as you never, ever give up.
The Handmade Cyclist: Why did you choose to commemorate your Roubaix win with an illustration?
It took me a while to find something that I wanted to give to the guys, everyone, staff and riders, that would last and be something that they could look back on and remember a special day for the team.
What did your teammates and colleagues think of the gift? I’m guessing it’s a slightly unusual present.
I hope they like it, I think each person is different. I have had some photos from some of the guys now that they have had it framed, I wrote a little message personally to all. I hope they like it.
Do you have a wider interest in art and design, and if so, tell us a little bit your tastes and interests. Are there any particular artists you like, or a particular style?
Not really I would not say that I am an arty type, I just know what I like. I came across your work and as you know the ‘Panache’ series was one that just jumped out as very cool.
A lot of pro cyclists, just like a lot of amateur cyclists, have a keen interest in the history of the sport. What first drew you to the sport, and when you were growing up in Australia was Paris-Roubaix a particular inspiration and dream? Are there any previous editions or stories that stood out or inspired you before you came to Europe?
Funny you should ask, I grew up for a good part of my childhood on a farm about 50km from the town of Goulburn in NSW. Mum thought that it would be nice to take my older brother to the local cycling club and do a ride, he was on a mountain bike in shorts and a t- shirt, it was a steep learning curve but not long after, we were ordering custom made frames from Italy that my parents couldn’t afford.
My brother was hooked, through him I was surrounded by VHS videos of European races, (didn’t matter what year) and cycling mags were passed around whenever anyone could get hold of them. I distinctly remember watching the CBS documentary of the 1988 Paris Roubaix. That was my first real exposure to the race.
Cycling is a very storied and romantic sport. I think, and have read many others who seem to agree, that last year’s race is one of the greatest editions of all - the early break, the race splitting so early, and of course your win after so many attempts. How did it feel to have added your name to the roll call of that race, and in such a special edition?
I was already really proud of my top ten results, and the fact that I have made it to the Velodrome fifteen times. But to win it was a bit outside of what I was willing to let myself dream about. There are so many special things about the race, so many things that make it unique and they all have their place.
The bike, the stone, the showers and the name tag to go with it. It is funny how these little things like having a stone corner in a shed behind a velodrome that is falling into disrepair can mean so much, and be so iconic. I feel privileged to be a part of this history. I hope that we can talk about this race as others have been recalled in the future. More so I hope the story ages truthfully.
In the illustration we did for you, I wanted to capture the moment when you went solo off the front of the break. I know that after the race you said that wasn’t the best move, but how did it feel to be out there on your own, the lead rider in Paris Roubaix? Do you have time to appreciate the moment, or is it just too hard and too focussed to think about at the time?
It is a real buzz to be in front at Roubaix but I was telling myself the whole time that I had made a mistake and knew I was not doing the right thing. But this time instead of being pigheaded I let myself go back to the following group. Glad I did, the buzz of winning was a lot bigger and worth the wait.
I read an old interview with you, from 2014, where you said that your then three-year-old son was just beginning to understand that you rode a bike for a living. Was he at the race last year, and did he understand the importance of the moment?
Yes he was, my wife, son, mother and brother all came to watch, it was unusual for my wife to come as she doesn't see many of my races, but she knows what this one means to me. (also not a bad race to watch if you only watch one a year, in my opinion)
Kym brought my son along, he was wearing a blue Elephant suit the whole day (don’t ask me why) He was carrying a sign at the start that said ‘my dad is a cobbled crusader’. That was special.
He came with me from the moment I got off the podium, he was at the press conference and all the way to the hotel and that evening. He was very quiet and knew that something had happened. He asks me less now ‘when are you going to win a race’. He also says ‘yeah I know Dad, that race Paris Roubaix’ in a tone that only a child can say that makes it sound so unimportant and insignificant. He keeps me grounded.
You’ve lived in Belgium for a while now, have the people there taken you in as an honorary Flandrien after your Roubaix win?
I have some great friends in Belgium and especially in my adopted town. Being called a Flandrien is something that others can call you but you can never call yourself, in my opinion, so you would need to ask them.
And finally, I have to ask - how are the legs, and dare we dream of a repeat?
It has been a different build up for me with our family swelling to five in January, but I feel like I am coming around and the form is getting there. I will do my best.
I am taking some encouragement from Duclos-Lassalle who won the first time at 37 and followed it up with back to back wins the year after!
It's fair to say that there’s now a bunch of committed Hayman fans here in Hampshire, and we’ll be cheering him to the rafters this Sunday.
I'm struggling to think of a better ambassador for the sport, and a true gentleman to boot. Huge thanks to Mathew for taking the time in such a busy and important period of racing to talk to us.
As it's a private commission the print we designed for Mathew Hayman will not be made available for sale. But keep your eyes peeled for our new drop, as The Handmade Cyclist presents Arenberg ’68, a new range of top-quality goods and off-bike wear celebrating 1968, the year Roubaix changed forever.