By Shane Stokes
Normally he'd be one of those in the reckoning for a strong result but Roger Hammond isn't quite sure what to expect this weekend. A new team, a different race programme and the first season without a cyclo cross background means that the Discovery Channel rider is in the dark as regards his prospects in Het Volk and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.
"I really don't know what to expect," the British road champion told Cyclingnews today. "My form is not quite 100 percent as I have been a little bit ill since coming back from the Ruta del Sol last weekend. I think it is due to going from hot weather back into cold, so I just have to get used to that again.
"The thing about Het Volk is that it is the first proper (one-day) race of the year so you really don't know how you are going to go. I know the form is okay because I have been fine in the stage races I have done (Tour of Qatar and the Ruta Del Sol), but these ones are another level up and a different style of racing. Also, I'm in a different team than before - Discovery is a really strong team so I could end up riding for someone else. I don't think there will be any average results from me this season as a result. I will either have good legs and be up in the front, or I will be helping other people."
Hammond's excellent third place in Paris-Roubaix last year, allied with his cross background, shows he is at home on cobblestones and in tough conditions. He finished thirteenth in K-B-K last season. "Het Volk is not my favourite race but it is not bad either," he said. "I've been okay there in the past. Last year I was in front in Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne with a couple of guys from Mr Bookmaker.com, Geert Omloop and Jo Planckaert. I ended up having to do a bit of teammate's role as both of them ended up in the front group of eight. So I sat back in the group behind, waiting for the second move."
When asked who the strong men on the Discovery Channel squad should be, Hammond mentions Max van Heeswijk and Stijn Devolder as two who have shown good form in recent weeks. "There are a few guys from our team who have been cited as favourites. Max was going well in the Ruta del Sol and Stijn is really strong. We don't know how we are going to play things yet, though. We are going to sit down tomorrow morning and work out how we are going to ride the race.
"There are some very strong riders on other teams. I think that Boonen is a major threat for Het Volk. But, for me, Van Petegem is the favourite. He has won the race three times so he knows how to do it. He has got a strong team (Davitamon-Lotto) and I think he's motivated to prove that he is still a man to be reckoned with in the Classics, really. I know he has been a bit sick in recent days, but in the Ruta del Sol he was really strong."