A weekend of unconventional style racing behind us, the very first Hammer Series took place in Sportzone Limburg. In a new initiative by Velon, the team-owned organisation that searches for ways to change and improve pro cycling, the search for the strongest team was the underlying concept of the Hammer Series. It contained three days of racing across three disciplines; climbing (the Hammer Climb), sprinting (the Hammer Sprint) and the team time trial (Hammer Chase).
Teams earned points and bonus seconds in the Hammer Climb and Hammer Sprint, with the weekend culminating in the ultimate battle during the Hammer Chase, a pursuit-style team time trial, which meant that the first team to cross the line took the win.
Cannondale-Drapac slotted into tenth place after the Hammer Climb, taking one bonus second towards the Hammer Chase start time. With Sep Vanmarcke, Tom Van Asbroeck, Wouter Wippert and Tom Scully all taking points in the Hammer Sprint, the team moved up to sixth overall and started their team time trial on the final day 1’49” behind Team Sky, the team in first position after the two days of racing.
Team Sky just outsprinted Team Sunweb for the win and Cannondale-Drapac arrived at the finish line in one big group with five other teams, rolling over the finish line in seventh position.
A massive undertaking
Sports director Tom Southam led the seven-rider team in this new event and is very excited about the new type of racing.
“I really enjoyed it, I thought it was great,” Southam said. “It’s the first time something like that has ever been tried, which is a massive undertaking.”
“I’m sure there are things that could be improved going forwards and most things have already been discussed. We sat down on the morning of the Hammer Chase with the sports directors and already threw in some ideas of what could make the team time trial better. It obviously wasn’t possible to change it right there and then, but it’s all positive stuff and all within the framework of what they want to do.”
A well-designed event
“In general, certainly as a DS, it was exciting,” Southam said. “It was very interesting in a different way to other races. And quite challenging.”
Preparations for this new race were certainly different with three relatively short races across three different disciplines, with smaller teams than what professional racing is used to. And especially: different rules.
“I had to prepare myself, because I had to learn how it worked,” Southam said. “It has been quite a bit of fun doing it; I spent a fair few weeks working out how it worked and then looking at all the potential scenarios. What I worked out from that is that there is actually no perfect situation in the race for anyone.”
Southam is very positive about the thought that went into the event. “They designed it really well,” Southam explained. “Even the points system, where some people were scratching their heads about. But at no point were points tied, because they had thought about that. That’s why they used decimal points, which was great.”
“Every ten minutes of the race, there was action,” Southam continued. “They thought about team sizes, the perfect size to not be big enough to control. All those fundamental, core elements of it, I think, are really well thought out.”
Southam believes teams will get invested more in it and tactics will become more important as the Series progresses. “In the future, when people start understanding the series a bit more, substitutes will be more important,” Southam predicted. “I think this time the substitutes were used pretty straight-forward, but substitutes will become a lot more strategic as the tactics develop.”
General European manager Jonathan Breekveldt is also satisfied with the new concept.
“There are always going to be teeny problems with something new, but fundamentally it was really good.
“The most important thing, though, is what we’re trying to achieve – that it’s interesting for the spectators.”
Tom Scully (participated in all Hammer Series events)
“The Hammer Sprint was really fun, because that was real racing, everybody, all-in. There was no hiding, it was a great race for us with the team and it’s how we got back in. I really enjoyed the Sprint day. It was raw, it was straight-out, raw racing. No soap operas.”
“The Hammer Climb was hard. And everyone was a little bit confused with the Hammer Chase, and how it was going to pan out. But we’ve done it now and maybe we go for bigger time gaps in the future, or an individual time trial, with the combined time to then create an overall winner. But it was definitely an interesting scenario out there in the Hammer Chase.”
Will Clarke (participated in the Hammer Climb and Hammer Chase)
“A few of us didn’t really get into the Hammer Climb, because we weren’t clipped in as the race had gone up the road. But I think the guys went well in the Hammer Sprint, that sort of made up for our bad performance on the first day. I think it was a little bit to do with being caught out I guess.”
“In the Hammer Chase, I guess everyone’s a bike racer, so when a team catches you, it was a real sort of following each other. That’s how a couple of teams ended up sort of racing each other. That’s why we were really bunched together. Maybe in the future we can all do a short lap and the fastest accumulative time wins. That could be a different way of doing it.”
Wouter Wippert (participated in the Hammer Sprint)
“It was great to watch. The live images of the on-board camera’s are great to watch, in the time trial too. It’s a lot different from the helicopter images or motor coverage we’re used to. The addition of the power data to live images is awesome too and they can even take it further. They could show the power output of all riders wearing the device throughout the entire race.”
Sep Vanmarcke (participated in all Hammer Series events)
“The Hammer Series was a new concept for the peloton and it needed some getting used to. We’re not used to earning points for our team every single lap, nor that crossing the line first doesn’t mean you win, haha,” Vanmarcke said. “The short and explosive races are new too and were very interesting to do, and probably to watch as well.”
“I enjoyed the Hammer Sprint the most. Everyone had the chance to attack, get to the front, and sprint for points – which they did! The Hammer Climb was hard. Maybe they can make that race a little easier in the future – a single 1km climb per lap is enough to make it a tough race, but also let more people battle for points.”
Tom Van Asbroeck (participated in the Hammer Climb and Hammer Sprint)
“The Hammer Sprint was my favourite race, obviously, because that race suited my strengths the best.”
“I really liked the event, even though it was an experiment. It was strange riding solely in purpose of the team – although we represent our team in other races as well, there is more of an individual element to that too, because winning a race or wearing a jersey gets to go on your personal palmares.”
Patrick Bevin (participated in all Hammer Series events)
“I enjoyed the first day, the Hammer Climb. It was a tough start, shaping the race. As far as the spectacle goes, I think it was an interesting twist on a bike race. The Hammer Sprint was obviously a little bit closer to something we’ve already raced. So I think the first couple of days were really interesting.”
“It was cool to be part of the first ever edition of the Hammer Series. We all came here, having never done a race like this before, and they wanted to do something totally different. They succeeded in that. I think it’s got a few tuning issues to be worked out, but if it’s engaging more people with bike racing, it’s healthy for the sport. And the sport needs it.”
“So you just got to keep the wheels turning and learn from the last three days and then, I think as time goes on, riders will look forward to coming back.”