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Roger Hammond Interview

January 19, 2005 – Respect in the pro peloton for the thirty year old British rider, Roger Hammond, has been a long time coming. World junior cyclo-cross champion in 1992, Hammond turned pro with the small Belgian outfit Palmans, and stayed with them through their various incarnations (Collstrop, Palmans-Collstrop, Mr. Bookmaker.com-Palmans) until this year, where he rides with one, if not the, best team in the world, Discovery. With last year being his strongest season yet, with a third in Paris-Roubaix, sixth in Gent-Wevelgem and seventh at the Olympic road race, Hammond is definitely a Classics favourite this spring, especially with the help of a strong team behind him. Pedal magazine caught up with Hammond from the Discovery training camp in Solvang, California.

Roger, how’s training camp? Guess it must be better than back home.

RH: Camp is going well, I’m having a great time. I’ve never been in California but it’s definitely better than back home, where it was -2 when I left. The first day it was a bit cold in the morning when we were here””it rained and was a bit overcast””but lately it’s been red-hot.

I understand there are two groups riding each day?

RH: That’s right. Each day we head out in two different groups. One is aiming for later on, so they take it a bit easier, then there’s our group, which is aiming for the classics. Michael Barry rides with us.

I guess this off-season has been a bit different for you, without the “˜cross.

RH: Yeah, it has been. “˜Cross has always been part of my training, and I really think it is superb for the off-season, but this fall it’s been quite different. It really has freed up my weekends and cut down on travel. They’ve {The UCI} made quite necessary now to do all the big races in order to guarantee a good start position at the Worlds. Previously, I’d just do stuff back home, peak for the Nationals and not race too much on the continent. But now, if you don’t have that good start position you really put yourself at a disadvantage. I mean. The world’s are hard enough as it is, and it’s even more difficult if you start right at the back anyway.

Last year I got really caught in catching up points, so I’d say, “Yeah, another eight-hour drive to Nommay,” or wherever. I did a lot of driving. But with Discovery, they are not so interested in “˜cross and I really want to focus on the classics.

So it’s not that you still don’t have a love for “˜cross. It was the travel?

Oh yeah, I love “˜cross. It’s like a completely different sport to me. If I was forced to do it, the whole road season and then the whole “˜cross season, it would be different. But I do it because I really enjoy it””it’s my choice. If my employer were expecting big results each time, maybe it’d would be different. But, you know, my team last year””we had Mario DeClerq, Tom Vannoppen “”so there was no pressure on me to get the big results.

“˜Cross is really good for training, and it helps the cold weeks go by in the winter because there’s an immediate reason to keep building the form””the races each Sunday.

Roger, let’s talk about your Canadian connection. Some people may remember you racing over here many years ago, in the early nineties. Tell us about that.

Well I came over with ESCA (English School Cycling Association), and did some races here, like The Fonthill Lumber Grand Prix.

So is that where you met your new team-mate Michael Barry?

Actually, I had met him years before at the Tour of Assen, in Holland. We had both raced there. I think we were 11 or 12 then. That is an unbelievable race.

Yes, I raced it too. It’s incredible to see all the different categories, from age seven and up””-a really well organized week of racing.

RH: I was actually contacted by the organizers last year as they were having a reunion of former racers, but unfortunately I had a scheduling conflict.

You must have met the Zierfuss family too.

RH: Yeah, Marcel and Rene. I sure did.

I remember you racing a 15km time trial with my old club, the Newmarket Eagles, on Canal road. I remember my dad Jorn beating you and you not being too pleased. But I guess you were about 15 at the time.

RH: Ha! Well I’m used to older guys beating me in time trials. You know, I remember thinking I did this really incredible time that night, until Piers told me years later that it was a 15km, not a 10 miler. Funny, that.

But you stayed with the Davidges when you were in Canada when younger, correct? If I remember right, you and Piers stayed good friends since then.

RH: Yeah, and we raced together later in Belgium. We lived together there, it was 1996 in the summer. I saw them both””Piers and Kim and their twins, in Hamilton at the Worlds. We still keep in contact.

You know I think that the Tour of Assen is what got me addicted to the cobbles. You remember all the cobbles? Especially on the one road stage. I was looking through some old photos just the other day and I remember riding the cobbles on that tough road stage. I know a year or so before I did it, Erik Dekker won it, too.

Speaking of cobbles, what do you think of the recent decision to cut out the Arenberg forest in Paris-Roubaix?

Well I was just having a conversation with Max Van Heeswijk the other day on our training ride. I say it’s part of it, but he was saying that it’s so dangerous that it needs to take it out. For me, I think that what makes Roubaix so special is the Arenberg forest. I mean. It’s never nice to fall off, but that’s part of the race. If it’s dangerous, you know, don’t do it. In fact, I believe that Roubaix is a bit more dangerous without Arenberg.

Because there’s less selection?

Exactly. I’ve always thought it was a far safer race after the Arenberg forest because the selection has been made. For the cobbled sections leading up to that, it’s a really dangerous sight with all the riders braking really late, risking a lot, and crashes everywhere. But it’s a risk you have to take because if you enter the pave in 40th place you have to catch up, and there’s dust and potholes, you risk more punctures, and so on. Then by the time you’ve caught up on the asphalt, it’s another cobbled section. So it’s a really vicious circle.

More or less like catching up on the descent after being dropped on a climb””-only to face another climb.

It’s exactly like that. After Arenberg, the selection is made, and the 20 guys you are left with can really ride the cobbles so it’s far more safe and steady.

Does having a strong team for 2005 really bolster your confidence? I mean, someone like Johan Museeuw or Tom Boonen must have had a terrific advantage over you in years past with the team pulling him to the front each cobbled section.

Yeah, for sure. Last year Jeremy {Hunt} was really good in helping me get to the front, pulling, but of course the more team-mates the better.

So what races are you really aiming for this year, just Roubaix?

RH: Well, 2005 is definitely going to be a more-planned year. With my previous seasons, since some of the time we were relying on wildcard entry to some of the classics I often only had 10 days notice that we’d be racing whatever classic. And you can’t just target one race for the season, especially when you work so hard to get the form. I just met with Johan Bruyneel at the Austin camp and sat down and planned my season. It makes things a lot easier and more focused. I’ve always been very focused and serious, but having months to know and prepare about a race as opposed to 10 days, is quite different for me. But yeah, cycling is all about winning those races you dream about, so Roubaix is top of my list. But also, Milan-San Remo would be fantastic because of its aura””it’s the opening classic, the first race of the year, it’s in Italy. Or Amstel Gold, it’s another race I’d love to do well in.

That must mean as well, with Discovery, that there’s more pressure on you to perform?

RH: Well, I don’t think there’s any more pressure than you can give to yourself. I’ve always been very focused and I’ve always approached everything with both hands. But it’s a different, but exhilarating feeling being on Discovery because I’ve gone from a second division team that races more “locally” in Belgium to a really global team. So I’m really excited. I mean, on Mr. Bookmaker, if we attacked early in a race it’s just a “suicide move” whereas if a Discovery guy were to do it would be a serious move. You know what I mean?

So this year is the year that people can take you seriously? I’d say you have been a major contender in classics regardless of your team””with your Roubaix result, especially.

RH: It’s funny because at last year’s Flanders, I really felt bad so I did this attack—a really pathetic attack really, and got about 2.5 metres ahead of the field before I was caught. After that, people were really talking about me because I was aggressive. But yeah, I feel like I’m getting more and more respect in Belgium, and in Europe. With a great team like Discovery I can just worry about fewer things and totally focus on each race. They take care of everything down to the last detail.

Thanks a lot, Roger, and good luck in 2005.

RH:Thanks Matt, Cheers.

Roger Hammond’s personal website is www.roger-hammond.com

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