The Velon group of leading WorldTour teams and their partner Infront have launched the first edition of what they have dubbed the Hammer Series, a new format for professional racing that focuses on team success in three different disciplines of road racing.
The first Hammer Series race will be held in the Limburg region of the Netherlands in the Limburg Sportzone complex, between June 1-4, with Velon and Infront confirming that all the Velon teams and other major teams from the WorldTour and Professional Continental level will take part. Velon hopes to develop the series over time, with three or four races set for 2018 and even more in the long term.
The Hammer Series will be part of a weekend of cycling events, with a bike expo, mass-participation ride, family events and even concerts, with organisers hoping to creating a festival type atmosphere.
Velon is private business venture owned and controlled by 10 of the 18 current WorldTour teams including Team Sky, BMC, Quick-Step Floors, Trek-Segafredo and Bahrain-Merida. Velon agreed a ten-year partnership with Infront Sports & Media last year and has worked to create on-board video footage and negotiate participation fees for team in certain races.
Last year Infront bought the Ironman triathlon business and invested in cycling by buying the endurance-sports division of Paris-based Lagardère Sports – which owns the Hamburg Cyclassics race and a series of sportive events.
Infront’s parent company Dalian Wanda Group of China was rumoured to have made an attempt to buy Tour de France last year and agreed a deal with the UCI to create the new WorldTour Tour of Guangxi race, and fund other UCI initiatives and events.
The first Hammer Series race in Limburg overlaps with the start of the Criterium du Dauphine organised by ASO but Velon hopes to attract many of the overall contenders who competed in the Giro d’Italia. Tom Dumoulin confirmed he would lead Team Sunweb on his home roads.
A press release from Velon and Infront described the Hammer Series as ‘a revolutionary new professional road cycling series to crown the world’s best team,' describing it as ‘racing, reimagined.’
“The Hammer Series will push the world’s best cycling teams to the max across the core cycling disciplines and find the ultimate winner. Its format will bring the most exciting elements of team cycling to a broadest audience.”
A team-based format of three circuit races
Instead of a traditional stage race format, the Hammer series focuses on the strength and success of teams. There are no individual winners with results based on rider placings as a team.
The teams will race in three different events on different days: the Hammer Sprint, the Hammer Climb and the Hammer Chase, each held on an 8-10km circuit to enable the public to see the action multiple times. Each race will be no longer than two hours and be broadcast on television, with the Friday and Saturday racing late in the early evening to attract a bigger TV audience.
The new format sees teams select five riders from a seven-rider squad for each race. The Sprint race covers a flat circuit, the Climb heads into the hills, while the Chase follows a handicap format, where the leading team after the first two days starts first, with the other teams setting off at different time intervals based on their results from the Sprint and Chase race.
The ultimate winner of the race is determined by the first team over the line. Time gaps between teams will be based on fixed time gaps per position and bonus time gained during the races. In team pursuit style, the team whose fourth rider’s front wheel crosses the line first in the Hammer Chase is the race winner, earning points towards the overall Hammer Series.
Velon goes as far as suggesting that ‘The overall winner at the end of the Hammer Series earns the ultimate bragging rights as the best team in the world!’
Infront and Velon have worked together on the innovative race format concept for more than a year and claim to have the full support of the UCI. It is unclear how traditional race organisers will react to the new format. They may feel challenged by the events.
“There are many great races in cycling. The teams felt there was room for a new emphasis, something that distilled the core disciplines of the sport and spoke to its powerful team ethic. One of the riders who worked on the concept called it ‘impact racing’, I think that sums it up,” Velon CEO Graham Bartlett said.
The idea seems to have support amongst team manager and riders from the Velon teams. “Cycling needs to explore new formats in order to attract more fans, especially from the younger generation,” Patrick Lefevere, the team manager at Quick-Step Floors was quoted as saying in a press release.
“We think that this series created by Velon is an important step in that direction. The format is modern and really appealing to fans from all over the world. The concept of having a three-day cycling event which takes place in the same location could lead to important commercial opportunities which can help cycling develop even more.”
Tour de France winner Chris Froome is unlikely to compete but praised the team idea of the Hammer Series.
“Whenever I win I always say the same thing - it wouldn’t be possible without the team,” he said in the press release. “We go to the biggest races with what we think is the strongest team, and what’s great about the Hammer Series is it will really put that to the test. It’s something new and a chance for fans to see teams competing directly against each other.”