After an early-season of close results but no major victories, Lucas Hamilton broke through to take his first European win of 2017 at the Tour Alsace as he prepares for his major aim of the Tour de l'Avenir.
Aiming to join the WorldTour ranks in 2018, the Australian on the Mitchelton-Scott team fell sick at last year's Tour de l'Avenir but recovered to finish second on the last stage and seal the mountain's competition. In his second season at Under 23 level, Hamilton continued his progression, with second place finishes at the Baby Giro and U23 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege evidence of his ability.
"I didn't really have any expectation coming into the season," a modest Hamilton explained to Cyclingnews. "Obviously to wanted to perform. If you have asked me at the beginning of the season if I was happy with the position I am in now, I would be very happy. I have exceeded my expectations a little bit as it's been a really good season and I am happy with it."
Thanks to his results, including four second places in Italian one-day races, Hamilton feels there is "lot less pressure heading into the Tour de l'Avenir this year."
Hamilton's overall victory at the Tour Alsace victory was built upon his second place finish on stage 1 and his performance on stage 4. Stage 1 of the race took the peloton up the La Planche des Belles Filles finish just weeks after the Tour de France, where Fabio Aru claimed the stage win. Hamilton explained that he knew the finish from watching the race on television during July and used the knowledge to his advantage.
"We'd spoken about that climb being the same as what Aru had won on in the Tour and we knew the last two, three hundred meters was super steep and really hard," he said of the stage won by Markus Hoelgaard.
"That was always in the back of my mind, it was pretty cool. I remember watching that stage and remembering parts of it when I was riding up it during the race. Obviously the last bit I couldn't really take it in because I was pretty much full gas to the line. It was a cool experience to race up the exact same climb only a few weeks after the Tour went up."
Hamilton moved into the race led after the penultimate day and thanks to the work of his teammates, defended the jersey to erase some of the pain of his early season defeats.
"It was quite special to finally pull off the win. In that sort of tour, it was a really tough tour and raced really hard, I was really happy. Also, as a team we rode the race really strong and controlled it. Everyone was really happy that we could pull off the win."
Adding to the sweetness of the victory, Hamilton was not originally down to race Alsace after falling ill and crashing out of the Giro Valle d'Aosta in July.
"I was just going to be doing Aosta and build into l'Avenir but after missing the last two stages of Aosta I was pretty keen to get a few more race days in before l'Avenir just to build form. I asked James [Victor] if I could do Alsace and ended up doing it. Looking back, it was a pretty decision," an understated Hamilton added.
Every second counts at the Giro Baby
In recent years, the Giro Valle d'Aosta, Tour de l'Avenir and Ronde de Isard have been the top Under 23 stage races in Europe and 2017 saw the return of the Baby Giro to the calendar. A race Australians had historically done well at with Scott Davis and Matt Lloyd both finishing on the podium. Despite no previous experience of the race, Hamilton and teammate Jai Hindley both finished on the podium and won stages.
Having finished just nine seconds off the maglia rosa, Hamilton explained that believes the win was well within his grasp considering the unnecessary time he lost.
"There are lots of places I lost time where I don't think I needed to. There was a stage where I got caught up in a crash with three kilometres to go and then there was a split in the last 500 metres and they gave everyone caught up in the crash bunch time, they gave us second bunch time which was 16 seconds," he said.
"Obviously, if I could go back, that would be a big thing I would change. I think at the end of the day, it is all hindsight and you can look to where you can improve and work on it but the rest of the time you can't dwell too much because you have to keep pushing. Especially when you still have some big goals left for the season."
Rivals at the Tour de l'Avenir
In two-weeks time Hamilton will line out for the Australian team at the Tour de l'Avenir ready to challenge for the win but wary of the competition, name checking Pavel Sivakov (Russia) and Egan Bernal (Colombia) as two rivals.
"You can't go past Pavel Sivakov who has an outstanding season. He's won the Baby Giro and Aosta and Ronde de l'Isard. He's a big GC threat and there are other guys who have been consistent throughout the year and have had good results," he said.
"He's probably the favourite heading in. then there is the Colombian Egan Vernal but then in Under 23 ranks it is always predictably unpredictable so I think there will be plenty of guys up there climbing well. There are also a lot of flat and sharpish kind of stages that will be technical and quite stressful. The first six stage will be just as, if not more, important than the last three stages."
With the Tour de l'Avenir his August goal, Hamilton's September revolves around the Bergen Road Race World Championships on a course suited to his characteristics. First though, is a final shot at Tour de l'Avenir glory and the opportunity to podium at the 'mini' Giro and Tour de France.