An interview with Roger Hammond, April 12, 2007
It's been a tough start to the 2007 season for Britain's Roger Hammond but the tables are starting to turn in his direction. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé caught up with the T-Mobile rider after his podium place at Gent-Wevelgem.
When Roger Hammond headed to Belgium last month he hoped for a few strong showings in the events preceding this weekend's Spring Classic Paris-Roubaix race. Instead, the T-Mobile rider's best result was at the Dwars door Vlaanderen where he came home 15th in a large lead bunch. Hammond's next best result was 26th at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen a few days later, which was followed by a 39th at De Panne-Koksijde and an abandonment at last weekend's Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
At that point Hammond's lead up to his beloved Paris-Roubaix was looking less than impressive. That was until yesterday, when Hammond charged home at Gent-Wevelgem in second place behind teammate Marcus Burghart.
"You know I don't like it the easy way," joked Hammond at the finish. "All year long I have been trying to get into breakaways and this time I made it. When we were up there we waited for the cavalry to come - Quick.Step that is - but nobody came."
"You know I don't like it the easy way." - Hammond on the path to his first podium of 2007
Hammond was off the front, in the lead bunch with Christophe Mengin (Française des Jeux), Oscar Freire Gomez (Rabobank), Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne). Eventual winner Burghardt bridged to the break a little later in the race.
"Mengin and myself calculated what we needed to make it to the second passage of the Kemmelberg before the bunch," noted Hammond. "We realised the peloton was sprinting towards the hill zone making us lose some minutes, but after the hills we could take time back on them."
It was clear from the early stages that Hammond and Mengin had better endurance than others in the break. Despite that, the British rider, always the gentlemen, acknowledged the efforts of French champion Brard, who was instrumental in helping the break go down the road.
"Brard was already suffering hard, as he was taking less turns [on the front], but we owe him as he kept pulling as hard as he could, even though he didn't have a chance," said a grateful Hammond. "Getting closer to the Kemmelberg we realised that we would make it, we ate a little and then we waited to see who came up."
Once the bunch passed over Kemmelberg the T-Mobile pair of Burghardt and Hammond talked tactics: deciding that the latter would push hard while the former sat in the wings ready to pounce.
"With 1.5 kilometres to go, I heard in the team radio: 'Boogie, if you have the legs, have a go!' A few seconds later he blasted past us," smiled Hammond, reflecting on the T-Mobile one-two finish.
Hammond was delighted, and perhaps relieved, to receive the confidence boost that came with yesterday's results, heading into Roubaix. The British rider has an affinity with the Spring Classic, after taking third place while rider for the MrBookmaker-Palmans squad at the 2004 edition.
"I had a good day, but what would people say when we got caught? I'm happy to be in good form now, although I wished to be better in Waregem," said Hammond, before explaining the reason for his lack of form upon arriving in Belgium, "I caught a cold a month ago as all trees and flowers were blossoming early on. Now I'm taking medication for my hay fever."
It may be just a coincidence, but Hammond was one of two riders in the break on today's cobbled roads that contests cyclo-cross during the off season. He believes the discipline has helped him and Mengin negotiate the difficult descents like Kemmelberg, where several riders came to grief in yesterday's race.
"I'm doing cyclo-cross deliberately to improve my skills," he noted. "The other option is training on wet roads in Belgian weather. [But] I prefer to get paid to race in the mud near Diegem in front of 20,000 people."
Hammond feels the German squad's result is both a credit and reward to T-Mobile's form, off the back of some bad publicity due to former rider Jan Ullrich's involvement in the Operación Puerto investigation and T-Mobile's subsequent restructure.
"Today, I think we proved that T-Mobile is having a great first part of the season. This is a great way, it's a ProTour race, they don't come any bigger than this," said a visibly delighted Hammond. "We have a good group of riders now; we're having fun and then everything is easier. Our results show that our system is working."
"T-Mobile could've decided to pull the plug after 2006 but the sponsor together with guys like Bob Stapleton are sharing trust in us, this is a reward for them," he concluded.
The only question remaining is can Hammond give T-Mobile and himself the ultimate reward by taking victory when the peloton rolls into Roubaix this Sunday?