On the eve of the inaugural Hammer Series in Limburg, Netherlands, the star riders of the new three-day event assembled for the pre-race press conference and team presentation. Recently knighted Giro d'Italia champion Tom Dumoulin was the star attraction on home soil with the fans reserving the loudest cheers for the Team Sunweb rider.
Still adjusting to life as the first Dutchman to win the Giro, the 26-year-old admitted he is unsure how the race will play out.
"The [Team Sunweb] sports director called me this morning and said: "How do you think Hammer Series is going to be tactically?" and I was like, "Er … I didn't have time to think about that yet. I've been a bit busy," Dumoulin said, adding "It's super-special; I'm finally home. It was an amazing time in the Giro and now an amazing time at home.
"Physically it's going to be difficult in the first hour [at Hammer Series] tomorrow, but I expect to be good after that and I hope to get some points for the team, because it's a points race and I'll be doing the second half probably after my tired legs from the Giro."
For Movistar's Alex Dowsett, the tactical element to the race will also be a totally new experience although the Briton will start the Hammer Series with fresh legs. Dowsett hasn't raced since the Tour de Romandie in April where he was second the in the Aigle prologue.
"Tactically, everything we know becomes secondary. This is new territory for all of us. It's going to be really interesting," said Dowsett. "We have seen in the last few years that short stages can really be some of the most exciting to watch, and obviously with the stages being so short here, I think it's going to be some real hard racing from the word go.
"The way I have been seeing it is, Formula 1 has been around forever and then Formula E has been produced in the last couple of years and it's gaining popularity and traction every year, and I think perhaps the Hammer Series is going to be similar in that it is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger."
Adding he is keen to see the Dutch roads packed with fans, Dowsett said he expects the likes of Belgian squad Quick-Step Floors to be the team to beat after three days.
"It will be a massive spectacle. For us, as well, it's great to race in front of big crowds. We get a buzz off the fans and the fans seeing us much more regularly, it's a lot better – everyone wins," he said. "That Giro crosswinds stage and what Quick-Step did in terms of riding as a team really stood out. In terms of riding, they've put a little marker out there."
Philippe Gilbert is one the riders selected in Quick-Step Floors squad for the race and the Belgian champion is expecting the unexpected across the three days.
"I'm happy to be here and part of this new project and, of course, the fact that it's organised in Limburg is always nice for me. It's a region I like to train and race and I have a lot of memories, so I'm always happy to be here," said Gilbert. "I think people will love it. After two or three laps there will probably be different groups; it probably won't stay together for more than a couple of laps. That will be great for the fans because there will always be something to see. It will be really interesting."
Lotto Soudal will start with Andre Greipel and Tim Wellens as its two key riders in the search for points to secure the win. Despite his Giro stage win, Greipel emphasised it would be a team effort to get the win in Saturday's Sprint stage.
"The tactics will be totally different. It will not be up to me [in the Hammer Sprint]; there will also be pressure on the other team-mates to get most of the points," said Greipel. "At the end it's not always myself who has to sprint on Saturday. We have quite a lot of fast guys, so we need to use every rider in the team to get the points.
"That is what makes it exciting for us, to see the tactics of the other teams."
A time-time winner of the Eneco Tour, which takes place in the Limburg region, Wellens is hoping past experience will play to his advantage on the first two days.
"I have good memories from the Eneco Tour, but it's a totally different race and I'm looking forward to it. I'm maybe a little bit scared, because if it's full gas from the beginning, it will hurt, "said Wellens. "For sure, you cannot go full at the start and think afterwards. You need to have a plan. We are seven riders for five places, so we can choose. For me, I will ride Friday and Sunday, so I know that on Saturday I have a small day off."
For a preview of the Hammer Series with a breakdown of the points and rules, click here.