This is a season of stepping up as a GC leader for Team BikeExchange’s Lucas Hamilton and the Australian has started the steep learning curve by climbing to fourth overall at his Paris-Nice debut, gaining two places on the final stage.
Hamilton finished 41 seconds behind the winner of the eight-stage Paris-Nice Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), who took victory for a second year when Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) slipped from contention after crashing twice, while the 25-year-old also came second in the white jersey competition.
“Lucas, what a ride! He took one second in the first sprint which put him up to fifth place. Roglic’s crash and what happened after that was out of our control so I am happy for Lucas. He scrapped all week for every second and finally could finish fourth on GC,” said sport director Mathew Hayman.
Hamilton told Cyclingnews at the start of Paris-Nice that results were just a bonus at his first European race of the year with the experience gathered as a stepping stone to leadership at a Grand Tour more important, though he was clearly pleased that he worked his way up the ranks in the final challenging stages. His rise into the top places began with the GC shake-up on stage 4 that came when the race headed into the hills, with Hamilton moving from 48th overall to 8th. A sixth place in stage 6 and fourth on stage 7 bumped him up to sixth overall before he gained another two spots on the final stage, finishing just one second ahead of fifth-placed Tiesj Benoot (Team DSM).
“I am really satisfied, I think it has been a good week. This is my first race as the team’s sole GC leader and the boys really helped me a lot,” said Hamilton. “Today it is obviously very disappointing for Roglic to lose yellow like that but for us to come out with fourth on GC and a couple of good stage results and a day in yellow; we are happy.
Teammate Michael Matthews, who was hunting for stage wins, wore the yellow jersey for a day after coming third on stage 2. The Australian-rider who has just returned to Team BikeExchange after a four-year absence also found his way onto the podium on stage 6, however, he missed out on the big target which was to deliver the team’s first European victory of the year with a stage win.
“We would have loved to take a stage win this week. Roglic won three stages, Bennett won two, so there actually wasn’t much left,” said Hayman, adding that regardless it was still a good week for the team.
It was a week that Hamilton, who has been anointed to step into the leadership void at the team created by the departures of both Adam Yates and Jack Haig at the end of 2020, hopes will help set him up for success in the bigger goals ahead. The rider, who has one full Grand Tour under his belt, steps up into the leaderships role at one of the three-week stage races later this year, which given Simon Yates has been tasked with the Giro d I’talia should be at the Vuelta a España or Tour de France.
“When you finish fourth it means there’s always room for improvement and of course you look back, but I have a lot of racing ahead, there’s a big season coming up and so I’m looking forward to it,” said Hamilton.