Feature Interview – Roger Hammond

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At the helm of a team a few managers think is the strongest in Britain, former pro Roger Hammond talks to VeloUK about the Madison Genesis team for 2015

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Feature Interview – Roger Hammond

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Roger Hammond is a legend in Britain as a rider who a long time ago left these shores to forge his career as a professional cyclist in Europe. He’d already been a World Champion in cyclo-cross (Junior) and then made his name in the classics with podiums in Gent Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix to name but two.

After a long and successful career, Roger returned home and became manager of the Madison Genesis team four years ago and that’s been a learning process and continues to be so. The team had their launch in Milton Keynes, home to their sponsor Madison, and speaking to Roger Hammond is always a pleasure and a great insight into the sport.

There was a time many many years ago when I had another website (EchelonVelo), I’d talk to Roger regularly because he was able to draw you into the world of his sport and provide a fresh and informative view of it. Today (Thursday) was no different.

The Madison Genesis team had their share of the successes on offer in 2014 with Tom Stewart (Tour Series/Tour of Britain) one of their standout riders as was Alex Peters (Tour of Reservoir).

The latter has moved on to a European Under 23 team whilst former mountain biker Tom stays in the Madison Genesis colours. Alongside Tom are many winners in the sport like Tom Scully and Mike Northey from New Zealand, King of the Mountains in the Tour of Britain Mark McNally, Tobyn Horton from the channel islands, and RAS stage winner Liam Holohan.

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A former British Road Champion twice, Hammond knows both sides of the game…

Add to that mix former World champion on the track Martyn Irvine from Ireland who has escaped the American scene to return closer to home; and a winner in Britain before he trotted off to Europe, Erick Rowsell.

James Mclaughlin tasted success in France last year and the team have also signed the British Junior Road Race champion in Tristan Robbins as well as another youngster still at school, Joe Evans. The final three riders are Matt Holmes, Dom Jelfs and Matt Cronshaw, a winner at Prem level in previous years.

“I had a lot of riders ringing me up asking ‘why aren’t we racing, why aren’t we doing this’ and I spent most of my energy trying to keep riders calm.”

There is so much depth there with so many established winners that I started the interview by saying that several managers have said it’s the strongest team but Roger wasn’t having any of it.

“No. I think in the domestic scene, every time we come out with a stronger team, everyone steps up so when I look around at the other teams, I think, my god, there are some strong teams out there and there is going to be some cracking racing”.

“I think we’re different to the other teams. We’re more of a broad spread whilst other teams have peaks and troughs”.

“You can’t rule out their peaks because they are going to be hugely difficult to beat; Steele von Hoff one of them not to mention those in other teams. So the whole level has been raised which is fantastic.”

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“If we talked about this happening five years ago, we’d be laughing about it with the level being this high. I am really pleased with the team we have signed however. We know what our strengths are and we’ll work on those and try and make the races run our way whilst the other teams will want to make other things happen.”

Not so many years ago, Roger was part of top WorldTour teams such as Team Sky and when asked if the racing in events like the one at Ipswich last season are getting more controlled like the European pro races, he replied “Some races here are conducive to that style of racing and also that event was close to the Tour of Britain when some teams are preparing for that event.”

“What the racing has shown though is that there are more professionally run teams nowadays. It is no good just having a Commonwealth Games champion or Tour of Normandy stage winner. You need the Tour of Normandy stage winner working with the Commonwealth Games champion and so on and then you have a team that can win bike races”.

“Ten years ago though, you could have said to Tom Scully, off you go and get on with it. Cycling here has changed and that is why you have riders like Tom coming here because there are opportunities for riders in events like the Tour of Yorkshire, the Velothon (new UCI race in Wales) and the other Sweetspot races like Ride London and Tour of Britain”.

“It’s almost as if you don’t have to go out of the UK to have enough international racing”.

“The moment you stand still, you get like me at the end of my career as the guy who had a power metre on the bike but didn’t know how it worked and didn’t care how it worked yet the guy next to me was a living by it. That’s the moment when you realise you are part of a different generation…”

Asked if 2014 continued to be a learning process as a manager, he replied “bloody hell yeah. I have only been doing this a few years and they do merge into one. This is a job that like a bike rider, the day you think you have learnt everything is the day to hang up the bike”.

“We didn’t win the World Championships or the Tour of Britain so I am not doing everything right yet! I set myself some goals in the first year like not to leave people behind and to be at races on time; the basics. To use an analogy with brain surgery, you tap into one part, and that opens up another door and you tap on another, and then another door opens. There are just a myriad of things we can do and we do try to think out of the box.”

“What I bring to the table is I was racing in teams at the highest level for 15 years. There were people far cleverer than me throwing money at things so I could see how it was done when money was no object. People have laughed at us at things we did last year where we didn’t turn up to races because we were at training camps but in the Tour of Britain, I think that paid off”.

“So, not doing the norm and doing the things we can afford to do that the big teams do and bring them to the UK, is thinking out of the box. Okay, we’re not riding the Tour de France but what is the difference in the principles? There isn’t any. The Tour of Britain is the Tour de France for us and what do those Tour de France teams do in Jan, Feb, March, April, May and June? We try and replicate their principles through our racing programme and do what we can afford to do”.

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Just one of the tasks Roger has, driving the team car …

Changing face of the British Racing Season in Britain
“The first year for the team we did Challenge Majorca for example because the done thing was to start racing early but I threw that rule book out and last year we didn’t start until April, so we were really late last year”.

“I had a lot of riders ringing me up asking ‘why aren’t we racing, why aren’t we doing this’ and I spent most of my energy trying to keep riders calm.”

“In that first year, we had a fantastic first half of the year but come the Tour of Britain, I had six riders that looked hollow, they were there in person but not in soul. Last year, I had six aggressive riders ready to race, ready to take everything from it”.

“We’re trying to do things, not just to be different, but because it’s a learning curve and we need to adapt to the racing calendar”.

“Last year, I took a global picture of the calendar and for me the Pearl Izumi Tour Series was pretty much the first thing we needed to be good at in May so you have plenty of time starting in May. How many people do eight weeks of racing and then start picking up?

“By then, you are already starting to go down when you have five weeks of the Tour Series on top of those eight weeks. Being at a high level for that thirteen weeks is not achievable so boom; you start racing later. And the second half of the season was heavily weighted to the latter part of it as well”.

“That has changed this year so we have adapted to the racing calendar for this season. It is heavily weighted to the middle part of the season with a nice little lull and then a heavy end to the season. So we have adapted the training and when we’re going to start racing which is why we’re doing the Tour of Normandy as it is more important to us this year than last”.

“As the seasons change, we have to adapt and change with it”.

you are always learning because the goal posts are always moving

Managing the riders, racing and training
The Madison Genesis team now head off to Majorca for a training camp for ten days before doing a ten day training camp. Then there’s two weeks at home and then the Tour of Normandy for six of his fourteen riders”.

The season then kicks off with British domestic events like the CiCLE Classic in April, Tour of Yorkshire and then the Tour Series in May and June when its a case of being ‘on it’ for all the teams racing here in Britain. The Tour of Normandy though highlights a problem for managers in that of the 14 riders in the team, Roger can only take six.

“With a team of fourteen, it’s difficult and that’s the hardest part of it” says the rider who was third in Paris Roubaix.

“The problem with the calendar is that it is spread out over the entire season so you can’t expect eight riders to be fit and healthy and riding well for that period of time so out of respect to races in the UK really, we had to build the squad so when the first team are having a lull, we still have a strong enough team to compete in the other races at that time”.

“It’s is a nightmare for me because I have to juggle the motivation of individual riders and try and keep the guys who are not selected for Normandy motivated so that when they do come back into the racing, they are ready”.

“The key is talking to them and letting them know when I expect them to be doing well and the times when there is going to be a lull in the racing. The beginning of the season is always hard for a manager because the phone calls are coming in all the time about wanting to race this and the other.”

“I judge my season by how many calls I get in August with riders wanting to go here and there racing. Last year was pretty good as I had a lot of phone calls. So whether you have ten riders or fourteen, the start of the season is always hard”.

Asked if training and training camps are replacing the need to race in the modern age, Roger replied “yes, a lot. I don’t think it is any coincidence that we had four training camps last year”.

“My old peers will laugh at me for this because I was a racing guy but it is changing. You can’t deny it but then in my day, you didn’t have the support of power meters, coaches, specific training and controlled environments”.

“It was all hit and miss where you rode hard until you were dead and then you went to race. That was how it was but we’re trying to adapt and we’re looking at how cycling is evolving and going back to how I’m learning, you are always learning because the goal posts are always moving.

“The moment you stand still, you get like me at the end of my career as the guy who had a power metre on the bike but didn’t know how it worked and didn’t care how it worked yet the guy next to me was a living by it. That’s the moment when you realise you are part of a different generation…”

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