Team Bike Exchange’s Lucas Hamilton is using his first European race of the year, Paris-Nice, as a way to progress as a general classification rider ahead of his planned Grand Tour leadership position later this year.
The 25-year-old Australian is taking responsibility for the overall at Paris Nice, while Michael Matthews hunts for stage wins for the team at the eight-day tour, which started on Sunday. It is a significant step-up for Hamilton to make in his debut appearance at the ‘Race to the Sun’, as he leaps back into WorldTour racing after a stint in Australia and at training camp.
“I think I’m in good condition and I think the important thing is that I get through this race in an okay position, but also that I am just able to soak the benefit of racing it. I think I’m in a good position to take on the new experience,” Hamilton told Cyclingnews after stage 1.
“It’s nice to get races like these, super intense and really hard, I think they’re a good way to learn. I get to progress a little bit more as a GC rider.”
Stage 1 of the race ended in a bunch sprint, won by Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and all the GC contenders ended in the main group except for Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers), who abandoned after crashing earlier in the stage. Hamilton finished safely in 25th position.
The early stages of Paris-Nice are largely an opportunity for the sprinters and break away riders but by the weekend it has well and truly turned into a race for the climbers.
Stage 7 starts in Nice and tackles three categorised climbs in the mountains behind the city before arriving at the foot of the 16.3 kilometre Colmiane. Stage 8 includes five categorised climbs, the last of them the event’s perennial Col d’Èze.
The weather is another factor likely to amp up the degree of difficulty, with strong winds often playing their part, as is a field that is stacked with top Grand Tour contenders backed by strong teams. That includes the 2020 Vuelta a España winner and Tour de France runner-up Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and 2020 Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers).
Hamilton suggested the strength of the teams could work in their favour, with the race being more controlled and predictable as a result. However there were still likely to be plenty of curveballs in a race which, to him, is about far more than a specific result.
“I don’t really like putting a number on it. I just want to try and be better than I’ve been at races before and I think a result, for me, is just a bonus if it comes,” he explained.
“The diverse racing here with the weather and the hills and even the TT, it’s just going to be a steep learning curve, but a good one. I think at the end of the race, I’ll be better for it.”
That learning curve won’t get any less steep as the year progresses either as the departures of both Adam Yates and Jack Haig at the end of 2020 has left a significant leadership role to fill. The Australian team has anointed Hamilton to step into the void.
25-year-old Hamilton has been with Team BikeExchange since 2017. He took on his first Grand Tour in 2019, the Giro d’Italia, where he finished in 25th overall and finished fourth on stage 7.
He lined up again in the race in 2020 but the team’s GC leader Simon Yates withdrew after testing positive to COVID-19 and the whole team followed soon after. Hamilton came seventh in stage 9 before departing, climbing two places on the GC to 15th overall, which at that point was two spots ahead of eventual winner Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Simon Yates is set to try his hand at the Giro d’Italia this year with the decision yet to be made as to which Grand Tour Hamilton will race. With the Vuelta a España and Tour de France available, it is sure to be at another debut race for Hamilton and so another step up.
Hamilton will ride and target the Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Suisse as stepping stones to the Grand Tours.
“For me, it’s just about being consistent throughout the season and obviously then, whatever Grand Tour I do step up into to be a leader, it’s about being good enough to take that role on and hopefully pull off some sort of result,” Hamilton concluded.