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Hammer Series: Hammered in Hong Kong

The Hammer Series is still finding its feet, but as the Hong Kong finale proves, there’s no lack of racing excitement on offer

Peter Stuart
14 Mar 2019

This article was originally published in Issue 82 of Cyclist Magazine

Fans of Alan Partridge will remember the scene in which he pitches increasingly desperate  programme ideas to the BBC, including Inner City Sumo, Cooking In Prison and Monkey Tennis.

There is a meme currently doing the rounds among followers of cycling that shows Partridge in the same scene, with the words The Hammer Series.

That may be a little cruel (if admittedly also quite funny), and it’s true that cycling’s newest format can seem a bit contrived and difficult to understand.

But if the recent edition of the Hammer Series in Hong Kong is anything to go by the event has plenty to offer fans.

Points mean prizes

The Hammer Series is the brainchild of Velon, a company owned collectively by 11 WorldTour teams.

‘The original vision for Velon was very simple – it was that cycling could achieve a lot more by coming together,’ says Graham Bartlett, CEO of Velon.

Having previously been Nike’s UK marketing director and Liverpool FC’s commercial director, Bartlett knows a thing or two about making money in sport.

‘Cycling is too fragmented: hundreds of organisers, dozens of teams, everyone trying to do the same thing in isolation,’ he adds.

‘If you look at any other sport, how do they drive their economic vision? By aggregation.

‘Whether it’s the NFL or the Champions League, you come together and offer a more powerful product to the fans.’

The idea of the Hammer Series is that each event takes place in a city centre to maximise viewing opportunities.

This year there have been Hammers in Stavanger in Norway, Limburg in the Netherlands, and finally in Hong Kong).

Each event has three rounds: the Hammer Sprint, Hammer Climb and Hammer Chase.

The Sprint is basically a criterium race and the Climb a hill climb circuit, both of which give teams points that will determine grid placing for the final round, which is a team time-trial.

Normally the event is spread over three days, but in Hong Kong everything is scheduled for a single afternoon, and on the same circuit, cutting out the Hammer Climb altogether.

To raise the stakes, today’s result will determine the overall series winner.

As riders line up for the Sprint start, race commentators including former Tour winner Cadel Evans do their level best to explain how the points are awarded.

However, for those of us looking on, it quickly becomes clear that understanding the scoring system isn’t vital to appreciating the racing.

Quick-Step Floors’ Philippe Gilbert looks to be in impressive form, lingering on the front and regularly breaking up the field.

His team is fighting for the overall win, so Quick-Step riders are regularly seen diving off the front of the pack.

As the Sprint draws to a close, Cameron Meyer of Mitchelton-Scott puts in a huge effort to win lap six for double points, before the final lap sees a frantic bunch sprint that ends with Quick-Step Floors at the top of the points chart, followed closely by Mitchelton-Scott.

‘It’s sort of like the track Worlds here, and it’s not hard to understand,’ says Tom Van Asbroeck from EF-Drapac, who won the first sprint of the day.

‘It’s really intense. Especially for people who are trying to relax and finish off the season.’

He’s not the only one who has found it tough.

BMC’s Richie Porte was dropped by the lead group, and many riders found themselves in a substantial chase group, coming in well behind the main bunch.

Everything is in place for the Chase when suddenly we’re informed that a couple of Quick-Step riders had illegally rejoined the race after puncturing during the Sprint, and so the points have to be recalculated.

The result sees Mitchelton-Scott move into top slot and inherit pole position for the Chase event.

The Great Chase

Aside from the racing itself, there is something quite relaxed about the whole Hammer event.

Riders mingle with spectators and most seem happy to indulge the constant requests for selfies.

‘I personally really like the interaction with the fans,’ says Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin.

‘I think that’s the future for our more regular races too.’

Bora-Hansgrohe’s directeur sportif, Christian Pömer, adds, ‘It’s a really good race for the audience – events like this will help us to reach people who normally wouldn’t watch a bike race.’

The Chase proves to be quite a spectacle, not least because of Dumoulin thundering along at the head of the Sunweb train.

BMC flies past EF-Drapac, though it’s only enough to move them from 11th to 10th place for the race overall.

Mitchelton-Scott finish the Chase 18 seconds clear of Quick-Step, meaning they take the series win.

Once it’s all over, the riders pose for more photos in between helping to dismantle tents and remove kit.

Everyone we talk to seems quite pleased with how this year’s Hammer Series has gone, but Velon hopes it has much more in store.

‘You know, the Strade Bianche is treated like a Classic, but it came from almost nowhere 10 years ago,’ says Bartlett.

‘It’s a great one day race that’s spawning more races like it.’

The optimism is shared by many riders.

‘I think this is important for the future of the sport,’ says Van Asbroeck.

‘Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. If you don’t try it, you never know.’

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