By David Hunter
“I can still remember back to the start of 2013, I was watching the track racing in Bendigo on a Thursday night, somebody asked me if I was going to watch the Road National Championships in Ballarat on Sunday. Having next to no idea what the race was, I thought I may as well go and have a look. It was hot, there was a ridiculous amount of screaming people and how did the Durbridge guy just ride away from everyone? I for one didn’t see myself being back there in 2 years winning the U23 crit title, then the road title the following year. I was going to be a mountain biker!”
Introducing Chris Hamilton. Some will know of him after his exploits at the start of 2016, but some of you will never have heard of him before. Let me do the introductions! Chris is a 21 year old cyclist from Australia. Having focused mainly on the mountain bike, he has recently completed the switch to road cyclist. This switch has been very successful, thanks to him taking the national under 23 criterium title in 2015 and the under 23 road race in 2016. These wins were achieved at the ages of 19 and 20, the kid has talent!
“Obviously Nationals is one of those races every rider wants to be at their best for, and I was no different which was why I guess I really stepped up my training and preparation through the summer. Mark O`Brien said he thought I could win it, he even told me how it was going to happen. He was right too. This played with my thoughts a bit, I knew I wanted a good result but to hear I was a favorite was odd. A lot of hard work went into it on and off the bike, more than ever, and it was just a massive relief crossing the line and it all being worth it. Something I want to feel again.”
His win in the road race was quickly followed by a spot on the Uni-SA team in the Tour Down Under. Up against some of the best in the world, Chris finished 11th on Willunga Hill. This put a huge marker down as to what he could possibly achieve in the future.
“If I’m honest I didn’t take a lot of time to soak it all in at the time, but I did surprise myself a bit. Racing at that level for a rider like myself who has very little experience you don’t really know what to expect, I found myself wondering things like, is everyone else was hurting as much as me, what am I doing out here in the wind and how did I end up back here again? But all the hierarchy goes out the window and it doesn’t matter that you’re not a world tour rider, because you’re on the final climb with what’s left of the main group. At the time all I knew was pain and holding onto the wheel in front, but once I crossed the line and came to my senses of what just happened it was unreal. Even though, only I will remember I finished 11th and it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if there’s ever a day to think, right, I want to be a professional cyclist for a living, it’s then.”
Before this year, Chris still spent a lot of time competing in mountain bike races. What was behind his decision to switch to the road?
“My result and this years Nationals was the biggest decider for me. As well as getting a sniff of the good life at the Tour Down Under, how can one go back from there? The past few years I had my focus set on making it in the XC mountain bike scene, and to trying to get a gig at the 2016 olympics. After doing a few months on the US and European world cup circuit trying to get some good results, and gain UCI points, last year I came out of it with not the level of results I’d hoped, plus it has a massive cost involved and very little support. So the road just seemed like a better and more realistic pathway.
When I joined Avanti, three years ago, I wasn’t completely aware just how many riders had gone on to the next level through the team(10 to the World Tour), but it was pretty clear my best interests came first as Andrew was happy to let me do whatever I wanted as far as putting the MTB first. The start of this year was a massive blur as it was, and then all of a sudden to just drop everything and go to Europe with people I didn’t know that well, and a system that was completely different to anything I had done, I just felt I needed to stay in a familiar environment and learn the ropes on the road a little more, that’s why I choose Avanti.”
Avanti are one of those wonderful teams. They have produced many top class riders and are led by one of the best in the business, Andrew Christie-Johnson. It really is a shame that they are still lacking a title sponsor for 2017. Any business people reading!?
“I personally have not had a lot of experiences with different teams and how the riders all get along and mesh, but I’d have to say Avanti is bloody good. I was only 18 when I joined the team and not many people knew who I was, and I didn’t know many of them at all. Knowing my place was going to be at the bottom of the food chain, I don’t remember speaking much and kept to myself a lot, but quickly learned the team was just a laid back bunch of guys and if they were taking the piss out of you it’s probably a good thing. This year was the first time the team had done a European race stint so we all spent a lot more time together than usual, all without any issues though. When we go away on tours it is in a way just like going to hang out with your mates for a week, one of the reasons I think the team does so well. Whilst still keeping things serious and professional when needed of course.
There certainly is a lot of experienced guys in the team, but I’m not one to ask a lot of questions, guess I don’t want to feel like I’m bothering anyone but there is a lot of outspoken riders on the team you could say. With a track record like the team has it’s very easy I find to take a bit of a back seat and learn from others. Although if I’ve done something wrong or if something needs to be done you hear about it pretty quickly.. Which I think is great. I owe a massive amount of my progress to the guys, and have nothing but praise for all the work Andrew(Christie-Johnson), Steve(Price) and Neil put into giving us riders the best chance to progress in the sport.”
Despite the wonderful start to 2016, it wasn’t all plain sailing for our young Australian friend.
“I had a pretty major low point back in April, just getting back into training after a short break from the summer racing block I was hit by a car out training. The car was turning through an intersection and didn’t see me so it was almost a head on collusion. Needless to say I came out second best with a few cracked ribs, punctured lung and fractured scaphoid + radius. I dealt with it the only way an athlete can, listen to the doctors and let the body heal through rest. Naturally as most athletes know, or more likely think they know best, I was back on a trainer a week after getting released from hospital.
It was a long process of doctor, physio and surgeon visits along with a stupid amount of ergo sessions but 2 months later I found myself on a plane about to race Tour of Japan. Very underdone form wise but God it was a good feeling to be back. Conveniently the first stage was 2km prologue, and cornering speed and accelerations were a key factor. I ended up 7th for the stage and was in the young riders jersey and my team mate AJ(Anthony Giacoppo) won. Couldn’t have asked for a better start back in my opinion. After this it was onto Europe and my season was back to normal. I tried not to dwell on it too much, obviously it was a terrible thing to happen but spending the amount of time we as cyclists spend on the road, you’re bound to come across a fool who isn’t paying attention. It’s the way life goes and I’ve accepted that.”
With a lot of attention coming his way, it was no surprise that Chris ended up with a World Tour contract. He has signed a 3 year deal with Team Sunweb-Giant, a massive step forward in his development.
“The support and setup they have to offer was a massive factor in my eyes. I take a lot of pride in the fact they can see potential in me. The long term goal is to develop on that. Take it steady and see what happens.
A step like this can’t be taken if you don’t feel confident in your decision, if I’m not backing myself who will? I know there is people out there that will have their doubts about me and how I will handle the move but I know I’ve got the ability, maybe not the experience but Giant are aware of that, they’ve seen my data files and have made it clear my development is key for them, which I take a lot of comfort from.
I will be making the move to Europe. Nothing but good things have been said to me about Girona so why not try there. The fact that I only know about about 4 riders in the pro ranks, all of which live there, I’m pretty excited about it.”
After such a rapid rise through the ranks, I wonder if Chris ever felt like he was never going to make it.
“As a junior I was never all that good. There was always bigger stronger kids than me, and racing on the mountain bikes or the road did not differ that much because everything was just a big drag race or time trial. No tactics, just try and pedal faster than everyone else. All I thought about was impressing my dad, he bought my bikes and took me to the races. I only started riding because he took it up with some of his work mates and I found the idea of riding with adults pretty cool, at the age 12 or 13. I won my first race as an U19 at the Eildon Junior Tour, I remember attacking and going solo with about 70k to go or something stupid and won by a couple of minutes. That was the first time I properly enjoyed road racing. The next year I joined Avanti, Andrew took me under his wing and haven’t looked back since.
I’m not old enough to have had a chance to doubt if I could do it, there was certainly a time when I just hadn’t considered it to be an option. Every kid dreams of being a professional sportsperson when they’re growing, don’t they? But growing up, finishing school and getting a trade is the realistic option. I’m just lucky enough to have the right people around me to make the dream happen.”
Amazing how many pro riders didn’t consider themselves to be a talented junior rider. It seems that those hard years help some to develop into a better rider. Chris strikes me as a confident young man, does he agree?
“I like to think I am. When it comes to racing, knowing when you’re good and when you’re simply having a bad day, or haven’t done the work required is pretty important. Whilst I haven’t won a lot of races in my time on the road, I can claim I’ve never lost a two up sprint! The Tour of Tasmania this year was really the only tour where I have been in a position to win. So that was a new type of pressure to deal with, which I handled fine, the simple fact was I got beaten by a better rider on the day. My characteristics don’t change too much when I am on the bike, I’m not a very serious person but in both situations I’ll flick the switch when required. Just have to wait and see how my humour fits in when I’m not surrounded by a bunch of like minded Aussies…”
Cyclists are always looking to learn and improve. Where does Chris think he can make improvements?
“There is a lot of improving to be done on my base km structure. I’ve never had a super high CTL (chronic training load). Which is not necessarily a bad thing, if I can do what I have done so far with much lower figures than most other riders it just shows there is plenty of room to move.
Aside from doing a lot more training, I don’t think there will be too many drastic changes. There will be more people monitoring my training. I’m still doing gym work at this time of year as I have previously, I will stop with the leg work and just do core for injury prevention a little earlier than normal when the training load starts to build up. Getting the most out of the efforts is pretty important so I don’t want to add unnecessary fatigue.
This year has been the biggest in my development. I`ve never just focused on one discipline before so training was always going to be altered a fair bit. I did learn a lot about how far my training could be pushed and what kind of loading/ fatigue I needed or could handle leading into a tour. When I was racing on the mountain bike intensity came pretty naturally in training, even if you just go for a cruisy ride on the trails there is constantly steep climbs to get up, so by the end of the session there was 20 efforts done without even realising it. Now I’m only training on the road I think my style of rider will change slightly. It’s something Mark Fenner (coach) and myself will keep looking at going into the next block after my off season.”
What does a normal day look like for Chris?
“Depending on what day it is, Bendigo has a massive cycling scene for the size of the town so there are a lot of good bunch rides. But I like to do the Tuesday 8am ride, over Mt Alex (our only hill) and the Saturday 7s. A lot of my training is done around the same sort of area: Sutton Grange, Harcourt and Castlemaine. If you go in any other direction here it’s nothing but flat windy roads. Breakfast for me is Muesli with 3 weetabix and some berries, same for training and race days. As far as the other meals go I never have a set plan, unless it’s in peak race time, then it involves a lot of exciting salads and veggies, haha!”
What motivates him?
“Previously I have always been motivated by my goal of making it to the next level, obviously like any athlete you get those days where motivation can be running a little low, but I’ve never been one to just skip a training session or stay in bed because I couldn’t be bothered, or I just didn’t feel like riding. At the time it might feel like the right thing to do but in the end you feel worse for it. That’s just me anyway.
Things are a bit different now having signed a pro contract but the motivation is still high because finishing the year as strong as we started it was important to me, it’s the least I could do as thanks for my time on the team.”
As I’ve mentioned in previous interviews, switching off from cycling is a crucial part for most cyclists. How does Chris unwind?
“Things may change next year but I don’t find myself sitting doing nothing all day after training, day time television doesn’t quite do it for me. Obviously if I’ve had a big day on the bike, not a lot gets done afterwards, but on other days I like to keep busy by cleaning/ working on my car, walking the dog, cooking and gym. I had a pretty interesting off season working at an earthmoving company doing odd jobs around the workshop and washing machines. I enjoyed the work but it’s not really something I can keep doing while training to be a pro cyclist.”
2017 is obviously going to be a huge year for Chris Hamilton. At the age of 21, he’s moving from Australia to Spain and stepping up to the World Tour. He is an exceptionally talented rider, but that move will take time to work. Having some friends in Girona will be crucial, especially if he gets lonely. Finding a good group of riders to train with and getting set up in a flat will be high on his agenda. On the bike, he’ll be trying to learn as much as possible.
“2017 is going to be a massive learning curve and I will be taking it as a learning year. I know I have time on my hands so I’ve just got to keep the ears and eyes open and pick up the tips of the trade as we go. There are a lot of experienced riders and staff on the team so it won’t be too hard but settling in and making progress is my main goal and, of course, just do my job whatever that may be.”
That’s not to say he won’t get the odd opportunity along the way. That opportunity might come sooner than later, especially if selected for the Tour Down Under squad. The Aussie riders are always flying at the start of the year and it would make a great way to start his period at Giant. Anyway, best of luck Chris, we’ll all be cheering you on.
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