The Tour Down Under Monday 'rest day' is traditionally an opportunity for a team launch, media opportunities and sponsor commitments. The UniSA-Australia squad managed to complete all three, launching the seven-rider team for 2016, commemorating 16 starts for the team, and celebrating the University of South Australia's silver anniversary with cut cutting thrown in for good measure.
The youngest rider in the race, Lucas Hamilton, is making his WorldTour debut with the wild card team this week, reward for finishing second to UniSA-Australia teammate Chris Hamilton at last week's U23 Australian national championships. Following the celebrations, the 19-year-old climber spoke with reporters at the team launch on Monday morning, describing his initial impressions of the Tour Down Under.
"It's been a really good experience so far staying in this hotel [Adelaide's Hilton, ed] around all the professional cyclists, the best cyclists in the world, and it's a bit of an eye opener," Hamilton said following the cake cutting. "It's a good experience to see how they go about their day-to-day things. I think I've been here since Friday, going out for a few training rides and the atmosphere has been really good. I think Adelaide really gets around this event."
Knee inflammation at the end of the 2015 season threatened to put the brakes on Hamilton's start to 2016 but following some gym work to strengthen his legs, what begun as a dream has become reality.
"Start of the season I was actually injured so it wasn't really on my mind until maybe November and I had a couple of results in the NRS and I thought if I go really well at nationals then it's a possibility," he said of his ambition to make the Tour Down Under team. "Then the lead up to nationals, it was definitely a big goal to get into this team. It's a really good opportunity for us young guns and Australian domestics to race against the pros."
Hamilton had his first taste of racing in a WorldTour peloton, albeit in a 51km criterium, on Sunday night which served to calm the nerves and provide a taste of what's to come this week in Adelaide.
"You have to pinch yourself a bit because it's a little bit different, you're sitting on the wheel and it could be anyone, a Sky rider, an Orica-GreenEdge rider… the way they race is a lot different to what I am used to," he said of the Down Under Classic in which he finished 63rd. "It's a lot more controlled and everyone's bike handling skills are a whole new level compared to what I am used to back in Australia. It was different but a really good experience."
The example of Jack Haig winning the best young rider classification on his debut in 2014 with the UniSA-Australia team is one that Hamilton is well aware of, and a feat he's keen on emulating.
"I'd like to try and do something, whether that's on the climbs or getting into some sort of jersey, a young rider, or polka dot or whatever. Obviously Haig has shown that's possible to do coming from an Australian racing background. I don't think I'll go in underestimating, my abilities but I won't be going in full of confidence that I'll do what Haigy did," he said.
Asked what he'd like to get out of the week, Hamilton added that "I hope to go away with a better understanding and idea of where I am at compared to the professionals. I am the youngest in the race so it's hard to judge, because I don't get to race these guys very often, where I actually am. I don't think I am too stressed whether I am ages away or close by, as once again I am young.
"Plus, I'd like to get to the end of the week maybe with some sort of result, whether that's with the team or with me, I think that would be a really good thing to tick off."
Following the Tour Down Under, Hamilton is looking to secure a ride with the Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy Team in Europe this season. Following in the footsteps of fellowing young climbers Haig and Robert Power who both finished second at the Tour de L'Avenir.
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