Rouleur: The first Tour de France in a few years where you haven’t been riding. What have you made of it so far?
Mathew Hayman: I haven’t been able to watch all of it but I’ve been following it pretty closely. Some of the days the guys [at Mitchelton Scott] have asked what’s been going on. They don’t always get the footage in the race. On certain days I’ve been heavily watching it. I unfortunately missed out the day with crosswinds, two days ago.
I imagine you’d have been pretty handy on that day.
I saw the result, and saw a bit of a shake-up. I had some messages coming through when I was here in Switzerland with Scott. I was trying to piece together the stage: looking for our riders. How did Yatesy end up in the front? How would that have gone down? The good news is that Adam got through. That’s the Tour de France, and that’s any stage race, y’know?
How do you ensure that you don’t miss out on those moves, because obviously a couple of teams in particular did?
There’s a lot more information out there about wind direction, the parcours. Some of the teams will have avant course – people up the road checking the wind direction – but you need guys in the peloton to read it. We have a group of guys in our team, they’re called the engine room, whose responsibility is to make sure Adam [Yates] is protected from the wind, particularly on those flat stages, so that you don’t miss a beat when teams like Quick Step put it in the gutter.
It does seem to be the same teams that are particularly good at not missing out. Even while those teams that do miss out vary a bit.
The Yates’ do very well, both of them, in those situations. It’s not their forte, it’s not what they look forward to, but they’re not the worst out of the GC riders. It’s a long game, the GC in the Grand Tour. I wouldn’t want to do it, be alert for three weeks and never really let up. Lots of time in the mountains I can just sit up and ride to the finish line but these guys have to be on every single day. It’s quite impressive how they handle that stress.
What’s going to be the state of the teams and those riders at this point in the race, ten days in, following the first rest day?
Some of them will have a bit of an idea of where they’re at. Some of them will be licking their wounds after the split in the crosswinds. They almost got to the rest day without having any issues, which would have been the goal for a lot of people. Some of them will say “I’m going to have to be more aggressive and re-evaluate how we ride.”
What sort of advice would you be giving the riders, like Chris Juul Jensen, who would be taking the role that you would have played?
Yeah, him, Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge are the engine room of Mitchelton Scott. They’ll be happy, like I was last year when we got through the Roubaix stage. I’d done my job which was what I’d be brought there for. We got to the first rest day, Adam had lost no time, we’d had the team time trial. That was a big big box ticked.
Days like today they’ll be trying to keep Adam out of trouble and alert, while not trying to fatigue him by putting too much pressure on him. It’s easy enough for these big guys to ride around with a climber and make them be in the front, out of their comfort zone but then they’re going to be fatigued by the first mountain. It’s a real Catch 22 of not pushing a climber to make him do things he’s not comfortable doing with, while keeping him in the front of all those splits.
I get the impression that the team and both Yates brothers have been putting particular work into time trialling these last few years?
Massively, both of them have been working very hard. It’s not a particularly easy time trial. They know that it’s a weakness against somebody like Geraint Thomas, who’s a natural time triallist. They’ll be looking to have solid rides; Adam will be looking to limit his losses. They’ve both shown really good form in the TT this year but it’ll still be a nervous day for them.
Is Simon in a position to play that super mountain domestique role for his brother?
Is he able to fulfill that role? No problem. We’ve got twins here with a very special connection and I don’t see any issue there with him performing that role. Does he have the physical ability after the Giro? That’s another question. I have some vague ideas about what the plans are and I’d like to see that happen in the final week. I think it’d make some great racing.
Adam Yates is obviously in a strong position, but who else have you been more and less impressed with so far?
It was pretty amazing to see the ride from Thomas De Gendt; I was super happy for Daryl Impey. Julian Alaphilippe has coloured the race; the sprints have been exciting – we haven’t had one person dominate.
We were expecting big things from Thibaut Pinot after the Dauphiné but he lost some time; It was disappointing, as an Australian, to see Richie Porte down so far. There’s so many mountains to come and so much can happen. A minute now or thirty seconds, even for Pinot… it only takes one breakaway and you’re back in the game.
I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Pinot and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Rigoberto [Uran]. There were a couple of guys caught out and I think they’ll be back. Maybe we’ll look back and say that made the last week more exciting.
Do you think Julian Alaphilippe can win the Tour?
My first answer is no, but maybe I haven’t thought that through. He’s obviously in fine form but he’s really punchy and his style of racing, as he’s shown, is on the smaller mountains. He’s super talented but he hasn’t been riding this race to ride for three weeks whereas Ineos have set themselves up to ride for three weeks and they’re defending and riding like that. It’d be a nice story though, wouldn’t it?
One last question. For the last three or four years you were at the Tour, and having only retired in January, do you miss it?
I miss it, but I don’t miss what I had to do to be at that level. To race the Tour de France last year was three months of preparation, altitude camps, weeks away from the family. It’s pretty cool to ride down the Champs Elysees and finish the Tour de France, but I know what it takes to get to that point and I’m not willing to go through that anymore.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get a job with the team so I’m still getting my fix. I’m still going to races; I’m still around the sport. Maybe one day I’ll want to go back but not this year. There’s an extra level of pressure on this race, from the journalists, from sponsors, from staff, from riders.
It’s nice that Daryl [Impey] had that win and I’m sure everybody will be a bit more relaxed and able to get on with the job after getting it under their belt.