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by Shane Stokes
March 1, 2017
Photography by Kristof Ramon
Many of the sport’s top teams will go head to head in a new race series launched on Wednesday, with a cluster of WorldTour squads plus several Pro Continental outfits committing to the new Hammer Series.
The series was announced in Limburg, the Netherlands, where the first round will take place in early June. Each of those rounds will comprise separate races run over three consecutive days, each designed to showcase a different aspect of the sport.
Days one and two will be based on a points system, and will be called the Hammer Sprint and Hammer Climb. The order of these can be alternated, depending on the host organiser’s preference.
The third day will be in the format of a team time trial although, as the Hammer Chase name suggests, teams will be pursuing each other in a form of handicap system.
The first team off will be the leader from the opening two days, with set time gaps separating the squads as per their overall position. The first team across the line will be deemed the winner of the three-day Hammer Series round.
Chris Froome’s Team Sky is one of those who have committed to the new races.
“Whenever I win I always say the same thing – it wouldn’t be possible without the team,” the triple Tour de France winner said. “We go to the biggest races with what we think is the strongest team, and what’s great about the Hammer Series is it will really put that to the test.
“It’s something new and a chance for fans to see teams competing directly against each other.”
The series is organised by the sports marketing company Infront Sports and Media plus Velon, a collective of ten of the sport’s 18 WorldTour teams. They have been developing the concept for more than a year, and have consulted with teams, riders, broadcasters, race organisers and others to come up with the format.
Velon was originally set up with a goal of creating alternative revenue streams for teams within the sport, helping them to be more sustainable. A focus on technology has been part of its structure, including the use of bike-mounted cameras from within the peloton plus the supply of rider data.
As part of the Hammer Series, live rider data will be broadcast on the Velon website, app and social channels, with that data including power, cadence, heart rate and speed. A live league table will be generated during events, and GoPro cameras will also be used to add to broadcasts.
The participating teams are Froome’s Sky squad plus the nine other Velon teams. These are the BMC Racing Team, Cannondale-Drapac, QuickStep Floors, Lotto Soudal, Orica Scott, Team Lotto NL Jumbo, Team Sunweb, Trek – Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates.
Also committed to the series are the Movistar and Bahrain-Merida WorldTour squads, plus the Pro Continental trio of Team Aqua Blue, Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise Pro Cycling Team and Team NIPPO Vini Fantini.
Additional teams will be announced in the coming weeks.
QuickStep Floors’ Tom Boonen is expected to retire after Paris-Roubaix. While he won’t be racing in the series, he said that he considers the new races to be a step forward for the sport.
“Velon showed that they have the capacity to innovate and ever since coming on the international stage, they’ve helped cycling make significant steps forward. Fans can now enjoy live data during races and incredible footage from inside the peloton, things that weren’t available when I made my pro debut.
“Now we are taking it to another level by organizing this series that promises to deliver in terms of spectacle and excitement. I’m happy that my younger teammates will have the chance to try this new format. Short and fast races on a closed circuit can make up for a great show due to the opportunity to involve fans even more.”
Increased fan engagement is one goal of the new series.
The opening round will be held between June 1 and 4 in Limburg. The first day of racing will be on June 2 and will see teams clash on a tough climbing circuit based around the Vaalserberg in Vaals, and finishing at the Drielandenpunt. This is the border of three countries, namely the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, and is the highest point in the Netherlands.
As per the series format, teams will field five riders for day one, and these will go up against riders from other teams over the multi-lap event. Points will be awarded for the first ten riders to cross the line at the end of each lap, with double points potentially being awarded on some laps.
Day two’s Hammer Sprint will be held in the host city of Sittard-Geleen and will be run off over ten laps of approximately ten kilometres. As per the Hammer Climb, five riders from each team will compete and points will be awarded to the first ten riders over the line at the end of each laps. Double points may be awarded on certain laps.
The concluding Hammer Chase on day three will also be held in Sittard-Geleen, with the squads fighting it out on team time trial bikes over a circuit totalling 50 kilometres. The leading team after the first two days will start first, with the next squad starting 30 seconds back, the third a further 25 seconds down and the fourth a further 20 seconds in arrears.
Each of the remaining teams will be 15 seconds further back from each other, creating a staggered start for the entire field.
These fixed time gaps between the positions will be tweaked based on the time bonuses gained on days one and two.
The final day’s Chase is described as a fox-and-hounds style team pursuit. No drafting of rival teams is allowed, and the first team across the line is crowned the winner. Times are set on the fourth rider home.
The closed circuit format will enable attending fans to see the riders at regular intervals during each day of competition. Together with the broadcast footage, the Go Pro images and the rider data, the aim is to enable fans to be closer to the action than in regular events.
“Our region is crazy about cycling,” said race director Emiel Frambach. “Fans will now have the opportunity to see the world’s best compete in this exciting new format over multiple days.
“By having increased contact with riders and activities for all ages, a new generation of cyclists will be inspired because of the memories created during this three-day cycling festival.”
BMC Racing Team President Jim Ochowicz echoed that.
“The introduction of the new series signals a new stage in cycling. The objective of Velon is to bring the rider experience closer to fans and the introduction of the three-day Hammer Series races is doing just that.
“The idea of having a new format of race each day not only increases the excitement around the race but allows fans to experience different race scenarios; sprint, climb and pursuit.
“It’s the emphasis on teamwork that is most important and that’s why we are happy to be involved in the series. BMC Racing Team is a team that prides itself on a strong teamwork ethic, so what better way to put it to the test than with the new series?”
According to Velon’s CEO Graham Bartlett, this emphasis on teamwork was a crucial part in deciding the concept of the series.
“There are many great races in cycling,” he explained. “The teams felt there was room for a new emphasis, something that distilled the core disciplines of the sport and spoke to its powerful team ethic. One of the riders who worked on the concept called it ‘impact racing.’ I think that sums it up.”
The vast majority of the events in the sport focus on individual achievements, including the Grand Tours, the Classics and others. While the first rider home in these is aided by their teams and would likely not win without them, recognition of the best teams has generally been limited to team time trial events, including the world championships, plus the final year UCI WorldTour ranking.
Bartlett said that the new format is intended to change that and to better reflect the collective achievement of cycling’s big squads.
Lotto Jumbo NL Managing Director Richard Plugge underlined this. “Cycling is not an individual sport, it’s a team sport. To get the winner his wins, he needs the help of his teammates. Total dedication of the whole team around the leader is crucial to success.
“Without a team, nobody can win. The Hammer Series is an amazing format. I’m looking forward to exciting racing through the whole season and the fights and races that will take place in Limburg.”
The Movistar team has dominated the WorldTour for teams in recent years and, according to its marketing officer JP Molinero, being able to underline its team strength in another way is a draw for them.
“The Movistar Team is excited about this new format. As the UCI WorldTour best team for the last four years we’re looking forward to taking on all comers in a different style of racing.”
In addition to pro team competition, each race in the Hammer Series will include other events where fans can take part. These will include pro-am challenges, family mass participation events, a fan village, cycling expo plus entertainment.
The involvement of Infront Sports and Media represents an increased involvement of the Wanda Sports company in cycling. Owned by Wang Jianlin, said to be China’s richest man, it has been previously rumoured to be interested in buying cycling’s Grand Tours and is seen as a potential rival to Tour de France organiser ASO.
Wanda Sports will partner with the UCI to run the new WorldTour Tour of Guangxi in China. The Hammer Series represents an additional investment in the sport, and may well see growing involvement in the years to come.
Aqua Blue (IRE) Sport
Bahrain–Merida Pro Cycling Team (BAH)
BMC Racing Team (USA) *
Cannondale – Drapac Professional Cycling Team (USA) *
Quick-Step Floors (BEL) *
Lotto Soudal (BEL) *
Orica – Scott (AUS) *
Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise Pro Cycling Team (BEL)
Team Lotto NL Jumbo (NED) *
Team Movistar (SPA)
Team NIPPO Vini Fantini (ITA)
Team Sky (GBR) *
Team Sunweb (GER) *
Trek – Segafredo (USA) *
UAE Team Emirates (UAE) *
* Denotes current Velon member squads.