In December of last year, Chris Hamilton was entertaining thoughts of representing Australia at the Rio Olympic Games in mountain biking. At the conclusion of the Australian summer of racing, the 20-year-old has emerged as one of the most exciting young prospects in the country following his U23 Australian national title, a call up to the Tour Down Under with the UniSA-Australia wild card team and the best young rider's jersey at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
"Yeah, it's pretty surreal. It's everything I've ever wanted and more," said Hamilton who rode with the KordaMentha Australian squad, rather than his Avanti IsoWhey Sports trade team at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
"Obviously, Nationals was a massive focus just for me. I'd never really targeted it properly because mountains have been me focus for the last few years and to come out and win that was unbelievable. Getting a call-up for Tour Down Under, that was amazing, and it's just snowballed on from there. It's been an amazing start to the year."
Fourth place on the queen stage of Jayco Herald Sun Tour elevated Hamilton from 12th to eighth on GC, securing his first classification victory as the best young rider.
Having tackled the Willunga Hill queen stage of the Tour Down Under last month, finishing in 11th place and 14th on GC, Hamilton explained the differences between the two queen stages of Australia's premier stage races.
"This climb is definitely a lot steeper, and I think it's a bit more aggressive. Willunga goes quite quick because it's a gentle gradient and it's pretty easy to sit on the wheels where this one, you don't get a lot of benefit sitting on the wheel," he said. Especially on the switchbacks and that where it is so steep, it's a super punchy climb, and you just have to pray you have good legs at the end of the stage.
Hamilton added that having become isolated on the final ascent of the climb, he started looking for riders to follow up the hill, zeroing in on the wheels of Australian national champion Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo).
"If you haven't got teammates around you, they say pick a wheel you know is going to be doing the right thing. Jack Bobridge definitely has a lot of experience, especially with the Aussie racing scene, so I knew he was going to be in a good spot. You just have to hope he's on a good day too," he added.
Coy on the subject of whether he will be racing with the U23 Australian national academy team in Europe this year following his start to the season, Hamilton explained that he will first enjoy a short break from racing before deciding on his next move.
"I'll have a bit of downtime this week when I get home and chill out for a bit. I have a few days of work to do and then prepare for Tour of Taiwan with Avanti. That's my next big focus."
Unfortunately for Hamilton, he will be racing on a new bike in Taiwan after the Avanti IsoWhey Sports van was broken into at the race hotel on Monday morning, with thieves stealing his and teammate Anthony Giacoppo's bikes along with several wheelsets.
Praise from the boss
Speaking with reporters after the final stage of the race, Avanti IsoWhey Sports team manager Andrew Christie-Johnston explained Hamilton has exceeded all expectations over the last five weeks since making the move to racing full-time on the road.
"I don't think anyone knows his potential at this stage because at this stage, every time we ask him to step up, He keeps stepping up," Christie-Johnston said. "If you have a look at those last three races, he's been pretty good. And off the back of mountain bike training which is so different to road. He has a lot to learn and a lot of miles to put in it but he has the potential to go a long way.
"He is going to concentrate 100% on the road and he has plenty of talent. He’ll follow in the steps of some of the other guys from our team, the likes of Richie Porte and Jack Haig. He’s very good, he’s just green."