Roger Hammond: Time to shine

After riding with the same Division 2 (Pro-Continental) team for many years (Collstrop, Palmans...

An interview with Roger Hammond, Friday, December 8

Roger Hammond is one of Britain’s best ever one day riders. After two unlucky and unspectacular seasons riding for the Discovery Channel Team he is switching to a revamped T-Mobile for 2007. Cyclingnews’ UK Editor Ben Atkins caught up with him at last month’s Revolution 14 in Manchester.

After riding with the same Division 2 (Pro-Continental) team for many years (Collstrop, Palmans Collstrop, Mr Bookmaker - has since become Unibet.com) and claiming a third place in the 2004 Paris - Roubaix behind Magnus Backstedt, the best ever result in the race for a Brit, followed by a move to the Discovery Channel team the next year, should have meant the big time for Roger Hammond. But, a succession of crashes during his favourite spring classics, the 2005 Gent - Wevelgem and 2006 Tour of Flanders, caused injuries that prevented him from getting the results he hoped to achieve - and from supporting his team captain, George Hincapie, from getting his.

“Well, there’s a fair amount to cover there,” said Hammond when asked to reflect on his last couple of seasons with the World’s biggest team.

Despite his lack of success in the races he has always specialised in, Hammond remains positive about his two years alongside greats such as Armstrong and Hincapie: “It’s been a completely different experience, they’re a completely different team to the teams I’ve ridden with before. I’ve done some completely different things from the things I’ve ridden before, it’s just unfortunate that in there, there’s been quite a few crashes. I’ve had quite a bit of bad luck in crashes. I can’t look back at any of the seasons as being successful results-wise, but as improvements as a rider - I’ve definitely improved. That’s the positive I can take out of it really.”

So a new team for 2007 should hopefully mean a new start for Hammond. While T-Mobile is as big a team as Discovery, the different surroundings should suit his style of riding and personal aspirations better. Hopefully, the new team colours will also bring him some better luck: “Yeah, well, it couldn’t really be worse luck! I’m hoping... There’s a slightly different set up as well, which should suit me more as a rider. I’ve never claimed to be a climber, and I’ll never be a climber, and the guys who did their job and excelled at Discovery were the guys who were in the team on the front in the mountains, and as Sean [Yates] has said, there was a fitting in possibility problem.”

Lack of personal success aside, he still pays tribute to the team that have been his employers for two seasons; diplomacy that says a lot about Hammond’s character. “I was the wrong kind of rider for that right team. They’re the right team and I’m the wrong kind of rider for that right team, that’s the only problem.”

Despite The Discovery team’s absence, Hammond has taken part in both of the last two Tours of Britain as a 'guest' rider in the Great Britain National Team. “It’s always nice racing at home, on home soil. I would have loved to have done it with Discovery but the programme at that time of year is just so compacted; the Vuelta’s on, you finish the Tour of Poland, then there’s the Grand Prix Plouay in France... So they gave me some freedom to go and do it, which I appreciate.” He has managed to pick up a stage victory on both of his guest appearances, but victory in this year’s stage into Liverpool was especially sweet. “The stage win was nice, I’ve never ever had a professional season without winning a professional race so it was my saving grace - it was looking a bit dodgy by that time of year!”

With T-Mobile as a major sponsor of the Tour of Britain (and with a major presence in Britain’s mobile telecoms market) and its team having taken part in the last two editions, Hammond hopes to ride again this year as part of his trade team, rather than his national team. Unsurprisingly though, issues of safety arising in this year’s race do mean that he - along with many others - has some reservations: “Yeah, I hope so, the Tour [of Britain] needs to err... there are some issues that need to be resolved, hopefully there will be some motions put in place to guarantee rider safety in the race next year.”

Despite not being known as a Grand Tour rider, having competed in smaller teams until he joined Discovery, Hommond will take part in next year's Tour de France which kicks off in his home country. “I’m going to do the Tour next year. I’ve had my initial team meeting and the discussions are that my plan is to go to the Tour, so it’s on the cards.”

While he was never going to get into the Discovery Tour team, the loss of T-Mobile's main GC contenders (Jan Ullrich and Andreas Klöden) will make way for Hammond to take part. “The reason I didn’t want to go to any of the Grand Tours with Discovery is I know I’m limited in the riders that they need. There’s nothing I can do to advance Discovery in the Grand Tours; they’ve got guys to ride on the front better than I can, they’ve got guys who can ride in the mountains better than I can. So, I would never go there because I knew myself, I was limited. T-Mobile’s focus on the Tour is going to be completely different, so it’s something that motivates me now.”

The addition of Hammond means there should be at least three Brits rolling down the ramp in Whitehall come July, two of which will be the favourites for that first Yellow Jersey. Will Hammond be an outside bet to defy the odds and take it away from Millar and Wiggins? “Yeah, just to put the cat among the pigeons - take the jersey on the first day!”

Unlike many of the British riders these days, Hammond has made his home in Belgium and sees no reason for that to change despite the trend for some of his contemporaries to base themselves near Manchester and the headquarters of British Cycling. “My house is there, my residency’s there, I’ve settled in with the local people. I just like it there; I like the way of life, I like the respect you get as a bike rider there.”

The language and customs barriers aside, Hammond is finding - as many did before him - that Belgium can be a home away from home for British Cyclists: “There’s a lot of things, it’s not too continental Europe for a Brit. It’s kind of halfway between the continent and Britain. All the good things about the continent, and all the good things about Britain are there as well - I can still turn on the TV and get BBC1... It sounds really pathetic, but sometimes when you’re depressed, just to hear an English voice - even if it’s on TV - sometimes it’s just what you need.”

“It’s a nice place to live I can tell you, really nice.”

With a team that better suits his own aspirations, and a new found motivation for the coming season, watch out for Roger Hammond this spring. With a bit of luck he may well better his third place at Paris - Roubaix to become the first British winner, or become the second British Rider to win the Tour of Flanders (after Tommy Simpson, 1961). He’s not likely to worry the contenders for the Prologue win in London, but expect to see him in stage contention during his Tour de France debut.

Finally the big times should come for Roger Hammond in 2007.

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