Ethan Hayter has had a tumultuous World Championships campaign so far. Things started off going to plan, with a storming opening half to his individual time trial which meant the Brit was fastest going through the first time checkpoint of the day. Hayter was riding well and looked calm, like he was pacing his effort perfectly to potentially take the first elite rainbow jersey of his career on the road. Things went south, very quickly, though, with just under 20 kilometres of the time trial remaining.
It was with 18.6 kilometres to go that TV cameras showed Hayter’s chain coming off on the inside of his chainring, and the 24-year-old frantically trying to pedal it back on. These efforts were hopeless, though, forcing Hayter to change bikes and with that, losing around 40 seconds to his rivals and any chance of taking home the gold medal.
Afterwards, it was reported that Hayter blamed his groupset supplier, Shimano, for the mishap. “I was being quoted but it wasn’t all in quotation marks because it's not what I said for a lot of things, Cyclingnews and stuff just said I straight up blamed Shimano which wasn't really the case,” Hayter tells Rouleur a few days after the incident.
“We've got these new bikes and the shifters just have one button because of the disc brakes [due to a lack of space in the shifters due to the disc brake reservoir]. What most people do is they then put on extra sprint shifters to change chainring but because I got the bike quite late, I didn't have time to do that because you have to drill it in,” Hayter days.
“This meant I was using Shimano SynchroShift, where it changes the chainring for you. I never wanted to be in the little ring at all, but it happened because I pressed down to change one gear on the back and then it changed into the little ring all of a sudden.” With the torque Hayter was putting through the bike at the time of the shift, this caused the chain to come off.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Hayter is quick to confirm that this was his own error, and he doesn’t blame Shimano for the mechanical failure. “It was my mistake for pressing it one too many times, because you can set it to which gear it changes the chainring and I knew where that was. I wanted to stay in the big ring.”
“I then tried to put it back on but I was pedalling really fast, because I was in the small ring,” he continues. “But it happened and it was a mix of those things, it was kind of annoying but I guess I won't do it again.”
The British rider adds that he thinks he would have won the time trial overall if it wasn’t for his bike change, which makes finishing fourth in the end a bitter pill to swallow. Admirably, Hayter is able to move on from the disappointment and look ahead to the road race this weekend, where he will lead the Great Britain team.
“I haven’t processed fully what happened in the time trial,” he says. “But I just think, sh*t things happen in races all the time, at least I didn’t crash and hurt myself, you’ve just got to keep bouncing back and luckily there’s always other opportunities.”
Sunday’s race could well pose the biggest opportunity of Hayter’s career so far. Although not an out and out favourite, his ability to sprint and get over shorter climbs means that he is a serious contender. After being out in Australia and seeing the course first-hand, the Brit has a better handle on what to expect.
“It's a pretty good, light surface and flowing corners but the total climbing is a lot, because you do one big climb and the climb on the lap is quite hard. I didn't do so many of the Classics this year, so I don't know how I'm going to go” he says. “The finishing circuit has a solid climb, a good couple of minutes and it’s really quite steep.”
Hayter’s preparation for the World Championships hasn’t been smooth, he picked up Covid-19 which forced him to leave the Vuelta a España early, but his form in the time trial was a clear indication that he has recovered well.
“I was lucky that I didn't really have any symptoms but I was taken out as a precaution. I think it was a safe option and I made a recovery faster because I rested properly,” he explains.
“I was still testing positive for ages even though I started training again and had no symptoms. I didn't have any side effects so we cracked on but I didn't do anything too crazy, a few days where I did like half of the ride on my TT bike and half of my road bike and a few efforts but no massive rides or massive efforts, to be honest, I just sharpened up a bit.”
Going into the race, Hayter sees nations like Belgium and France as the teams that he will be marking for an early attack. “We've qualified eight guys so that puts you in the front and I think we can use our numbers to try and race a little bit aggressively and quite clever hopefully,” he says. “France and Belgium will be the teams that are forced to control it and the Dutch have a good team and Italians as well."
Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
While Hayter admits the GB team will miss the strength of a rider like Tom Pidcock, who opted not to race the World Championships due to fatigue, he sees the lack of a bigger name rider as an advantage.
“Sometimes the name Tom Pidcock almost makes it worse. Even if he wasn't 100%, everyone would have him on their list of people to watch so that does change our dynamic not having him,” Hayter explains.
When it comes to the race, Hayter is expecting a tough and attritional day around the Wollongong city centre. Asked what sort of racing dynamic he’s hoping for, and he explains that he thinks the riders will be left with little choice: “I think we won't have to do anything crazy and it will be a really hard race,” he says. “Just with the way the Worlds is raced and the course, there's not going to be very many people left by the finish, I’m not imagining a big group at all.”
“Originally people were saying: maybe the pure sprinters are gonna make it, but they've got absolutely no chance, I don't think so anyway. I don’t expect a group bigger than 10 guys going to the finish.”
Hayter will go into the race with the full support of the Great Britain team around him, a squad that he says has gelled well together despite not racing as a group before.
“Everyone has clicked and we have a good laugh together, we don’t need to say much about the race, but everyone gets it,” Hayter explains. “We will race openly and aggressively, but it's easy to say that before the race. Who knows what will happen on the day.”
Cover image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix