Almanac Cycling: Humble Australian Sporting Heroes

The month of July is a favourite of mine. As a sports lover July provides the opportunity to feast on three of my favourite sporting events. You get the business end of Wimbledon, the British Open Golf (“The Open”) and the Tour de France. Lots of late nights and quality viewing.

I played a bit of tennis and golf as a youngster so I have always enjoyed the two sports. Both sports over time have provided a range of Australian sporting characters. From a tennis perspective over the course of my viewing we have had people like Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Mark Edmonson, Evonne Goolagong (Cawley) and Wendy Turnbull, Paul McNamee, Peter McNamara, The Scud, Pat Cash and Pat Rafter. In more recent times we have had Lleyton Hewitt, Nick Krygios and Bernard Tomic.

I like my Aussie sporting heroes to be competitive but not at the expense of sportsmanship or humility. Having not met any of the listed players personally I am only judging their public persona, but my favourites are in the mould of Rod Laver and Pat Rafter (or the best ever Federer). Champions who appear to be good blokes.

From an Australian golf perspective in my viewing lifetime we have had characters like Greg Norman, Rodger Davis, Bob Shearer, David Graham, Graham Marsh, Ian Baker-Finch, Wayne Grady, Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Adam Scott, Jason Day.  Applying the humble champion filter across these guys probably throws up a few more, I think Ogilvy, Scott and probably Jason Day fit the bill, but Ian Baker-Finch sits at the top of my list. Not only a major champion (1991 Open Championship) but a good bloke who battled some demons very publicly. Shooting 92 in the first round of the Open Championship at Royal Troon in 1997 along with missing 32 cuts in a row on the PGA Tour from 1994 to 1997 was a very public fall from grace. Through these difficult times IBF maintained his sense of humour, at one stage saying he was in contention for Father of the Year, as he was always home with his family on the weekends!

My cycling viewing history is much shorter than Tennis and Golf, it has only been in the last 10 years or so that I have got into the Tour de France. I am aware of people like Phil Anderson being trailblazers for Australian cyclists heading overseas to compete, but my time watching has been more about people like Stuart O’Grady, Adam Hansen, Cadel Evans, Richie Porte, Simon Gerrans, and Robbie McEwen.

Again applying my humble hero filter to these Aussie cyclists I would rate O’Grady (tarnished in recent times with a drug admission) and Evans up near the top.

I really enjoy the team structure and tactics in the Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana) with teams often having a combination of sprinters, climbers, all-rounders, domestiques (working for others in the team) and the mountain stages make for great viewing. The flat stages which suit the sprinters tend to made interesting by break-aways and whether or not they can survive to the end before being caught by the peloton.

European cycling also has a series of one day races/classics with the five most prestigious labelled “Monuments”. In the last two weeks the Tour of Flanders (first held in 1913) and the Paris-Roubaix (“The Hell of the North” first held in 1896) have been held, both of these races are considered to be Cobbled Classics as they are partly raced over cobblestones (rather than a normal bitumen or concrete road).

It was the Paris-Roubaix that produced my newest Aussie sporting hero. His name is Mathew Hayman and he rides for the Australian team Orica Green-Edge. Hayman has been riding professionally for 15 years and is viewed as a domestique, a work horse for others in his teams. His name has rarely been in the spotlight like O’Grady, McEwen or Cadel. Prior to Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix he had ridden in the event 14 times before and he is only a week or so away from his 38th birthday. Unbelievably, Hayman had broken his arm six weeks before the race and had a much interrupted preparation.

The race was 257 kilometres with more than 20 sections on the cobblestones and all day Hayman was near the front with the pre-race favourites – Sagan (current World Road Race champion), Cancellara (three time winner of Paris-Roubaix), Boonen (four time winner). Cancellara, riding this race for the last time crashed out with about 100kms to go, and Sagan was delayed as a result. Hayman got dropped by the leaders with about 20kms to go, but to the amazement of all (especially the SBS commentators) he fought back and joined three others, including Boonen in the final sprint in the Roubaix velodrome.

Nobody was more surprised than Hayman when he crossed the line first and it took a few minutes for his team to convince him he had actually won, and it was real. He joins O’Grady as the only two Australian winners of what is considered by many cycling followers to be the hardest one day cycling event.

Mathew Hayman, humble, resolute, a committed team man, and to mid-April, a front runner for my Australian Sportsperson of the Year!


A sports nut living in Adelaide with wife and two kids. A Norwood (Redlegs)supporter for about 40 years, played country footy as a kid and had a short but extremely enjoyable stint with the lower grades at the Adelaide Uni Blacks in the early 1990s.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great stuff,Willow and I concur about humility geez I reckon I would just about barrack for,Troy Chaplin v
    Nick krygious,my favorite tennis player growing up was,John Newcombe loved his charisma and Lleyton
    Hewitt yes he had more than his moments growing up but he did mature and always loved his fighting spirit something which,Tomic and Nick K lack.
    Golf wise we have had some incredible players and such a rich history always admired,Jack Newton always admired for the way he accepted his misfortune with grace and humility.IBF spot on and
    Jason Day is my favorite among our very talented current crop.
    Cycling wise from reading about,Hubert Opperman and Phil Skippy Anderson were highlights and until
    Stuart O Grady tarnished his reputation I liked and of corse the remarkable,Cadel Evans.
    Mathew Hayman is a remarkable achievement for the reasons you have listed it has a bit of,Steve Bradbury about it with out his competitors falling over and will certainly take some toppling from being aussie sportsman of the year thanks,Willow a very interesting read

  2. right with you on this one Matt – 15 years of grunt grind grimace and grit to support whatever team he was part of. very little personal glory along the way but the dream came true on the cobblestones under the most amazing circumstances. I sat up and watched it and like him couldn’t believe he won it!

    It is my #1 sports story for the years so far and proof that good guys doesn’t always come last!

    For anyone looking for inspiration or just a real good feel good story this 20 minute behind the scenes look at his amazing feat is a must. It also gave me a far greater sense of the actual team camaraderie involved in cycling that I wasn’t aware of.

    do yourselves a favour and check this out –

  3. Thought provoking stuff Willow. The humble sports star. Do sponsors/managers allow their sporting clients to be humble anymore?

    Michelle Payne probably fits the bill of a recent sporting success story who seems very grounded and extremely aware of life’s blessings.

  4. Dave Brown says

    Yep, also with you on this one Willow. It was just an amazing ride – so aggressive and resilient. Sadly ABC grandstand dropped the ball on this one – there was not a story on the website until almost lunchtime and it got a mention on Adelaide radio after the rugby league. Perhaps now Hayman gets to call himself a super domestique…

  5. Great stuff Wiilow, I have watched the P2R before O’Grady won it and this win by Hayman is my favorite. I am in Adelaide for my cycling doco and chatted to Charlie Walsh about Hayman’s win. Charlie loves to watch the European Road races and this win he said was a win for grit and courage. An interesting point I noticed is the other riders that were beaten on the line were ignored, not even on the podium, a fine line between success and failure.

  6. Steve Hodder says

    I’m wrapt with Hayman’s victory and how Orica Green-Edge keeps turning in solid performances. The disciplinary requirements of Pro-cycling team tactics tends to smooth out the most volatile of temperaments. Despite O’Grady’s drugs admission, he still rates in my books as a wonderful pro-rider. I wonder if riding Melbourne’s inner-city bluestone pave would be good preparation for the Hell of the North?

    Well written Willow.


  7. Not too sure with all the champions of sport but what about someone like Margaret Court or someone like that? She is a sporting hero and has court named after her in Melbourne like Rod Laver and he got a mention. Also Nick Krygios isn’t really doing the world of Tennis justice at the moment especially Australian Tennis.

    Nice Article though Willow!

  8. Willow Wilson says

    Thanks for the comments everyone.
    Rulebook,I struggle with Krygios and Tomic. Boundless talent but not a skerrick of true humility. Someone in their inner circle needs to tell them to pull their heads in. I think the Bradbury comparison is a bit harsh, Hayman has been a workhorse for 15 years. There was quality with him all the way to the end.
    Thanks Damian, I watched the backstage pass and got goose bumps all over again. Brilliant to see how much his team mates loved it!
    Dips – if part of a manager’s role is to differentiate their product, maybe humility could be a powerful differentiator!
    Dave- agree, definitely a Super domestique now.
    Steve – I’m with you on O’Grady – he made a mistake early in his career, but what a fantastic rider and team man.
    Tom – Margaret Court definitely an Australian champion but unfortunately I didn’t get to see her play.

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