A chat with Hamo

A former mountain bike XC racer, Chris Hamilton moved to the road a few years ago, where he spent 2 years with our good friends at Avanti IsoWhey (now IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness) - whose alumni to WorldTour already include the likes of Richie Porte, Nathan Haas, Will Clarke, Jack Haig & Nathan Earle.

After taking the title of 2015 Criterium National Champion and 2016 U23 Road National Champion, Chris graduated to Team Sunweb in 2017, racing his first road season in Europe.

G’day Chris, for those that don’t know you – how old are you, where are you from, and where do you call home during the year?
Hello all!! I am 22 years old, born and raised in Bendigo, Victoria - and as of this year I call Girona, Spain, my European home.

Europe is a long way from our big island here. What do you miss most about home so far? 
It is - about 38 hours door to door to be exact haha! This year was a pretty interesting one for me. I went over straight after Cadel [Evans Great Ocean Road] Race at the end of January and came home mid-October.

I’d never spent this amount of time away from home, but I found my way pretty easily. Living with fellow Aussie, Jason Lowndes, inside the apartment, we kind of had an Australian province. Always playing Triple J, Vegemite in the cupboard, little things like that help a lot. But I think I’d get in trouble if I don’t say the thing I missed out on most, was my sister’s wedding in March; I was down for Catalunya and sometimes, work had to come first. All part of this crazy job, I guess. 

You raced you first season in the Team Sunweb colours this year, what’s it been like to race at WorldTour level?
Until about April, I would describe it as terrifying. The level and chaos of the racing in Europe is quite hard to explain. It took me a little while to find my feet in the bunch, let’s just say that.I had one Tour Down Under in 2016 with UniSA, but that was a little different. I didn’t have a support role to fulfil as such and I could find my own way. But when there a race win on the line and there’s roles you MUST do to achieve, that there’s a bit more pressure.

But the team have been so good for me, very understanding of my lack of experience. Eventually, after a few big races and a lot of work, we got there and I’m now quite confident in myself. And it made a big difference to the second half of my season.

How was your debut at La Vuelta? That would have been a great experience!
Very much a surprise, I never expected to be doing a Grand Tour in my first year, but things went pretty well for the start of my season, I guess; and I got a call up! Obviously, I had no idea what it was going to be like, all you can do is listen to the more experienced guys and hope for the best. And don’t crash. That was a common pointer. The first few days were raced a bit harder than I anticipated. "Come on guys, we still have 2 and a half weeks to go…"

But it didn’t slow down, at least not that I noticed. It really gave me an appreciation of what level the top guys are on; something that can’t be seen from the sidelines. But we had a bug go through out team and at about 2/3 of the way through we were down to just 5 riders, so that made things a little harder. But in the end, Wilco Kelderman finished in 4th place, much exceeding everyone’s expectations. It was an amazing ride.

So, onto MTB now... you originally started racing XC back at home, when did you start riding? Do you get out on the MTB much during the road season?

I’ve been riding as long as I can remember, ever since I was allowed to go out and ride on the streets of Bendigo. But I started with MTB club racing when I was about 12 or 13, then took up road as well a few years later. Last year, I still did quite a bit on the dirt, but this year almost nothing. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a mountain bike over in Europe, but it’s on my to-do list for 2018. I really did miss it.

You flew back for the 10th anniversary edition of Cape to Cape MTB stage race. How was that, being back on the dirt, racing again and seeing some old familiar faces?
Loved it, I’d been looking forward to it ever since I got the invite. I knew I was flying back to Australia around that time, but it turned out to be pretty tight. After our end of year team meetings, I flew straight into Perth from Amsterdam, picked up my new bike and off to Margaret River!

It was so good to hang out with everyone again, it was just like old times traveling around with Jarrod (Moroni) and Peta (Mullens). They even made me sleep on the floor. But I properly got to enjoy the event, I was in the middle of my off-season, so it was just about being there and having a good time. Which I certainly did. 

You got in the breakaway in Stage 3 with Dan McConnell and Paul van der Ploeg. How did that go? You must have towed them pretty well, they went on to take 1-2 that day.
 
I’m not so sure how that came about. I was just riding next to Paul at the start, and I think we agreed to ride together that day. Dan attacked from the gun, Paul went across, and I’m a man of my word so I went with him! Followed by a lot of discomfort, but all in good fun.

 I was certain I wasn’t going to hang with them through the Middle Earth section, remembering it from previous years, and my skills were not up to scratch after so long off the bike. I just helped them when I could (on the road) and tried to hang on as long as I could in the trails. But I was so happy to hear they stayed away when I crossed the line, two riders that I have a lot of respect for.

You hopped aboard a brand new XC bike for to Cape to Cape – tell us a little about the special build.
I got in touch with Giant Australia a few months ago when I knew I wanted to do Cape to Cape, to see if I could borrow a bike for the time I was in the country and was pretty blown away with the response.

Not only were they putting me on a top of the line 2018 Anthem 29er, but Shimano Australia joined the party and put an XTR groupset on it! It was even sent to Perth so I could grab it as soon as I landed. It’s really humbling knowing there’s so many amazing people back home that are happy to help me out.

We noticed you a pair of our S-PHYRE RC9 road shoes under your feet during the first stage?
When I left for Europe I had MTB shoes still, but when I got home my Dad had a new set and I had none! Luckily Shimano was able to help me out straight away, and I had a new set within 2 days. But I was lucky I only had to get off and walk for one road crossing.

You did the rest of the stages on S-PHYRE XC9 - a bit more appropriate, right? How do they compare to the road version?
Much better! I was quite surprised how similar they felt to the RC9 model. I put the red insert in the insole and they were almost identical to my road shoes, only much more user friendly for the singletrack. And having the double BOAs in the same spot means the pressure points don’t differ.

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Last questions… for you, what is the joy of MTB? What do you love most about it?
I approach it a little differently now that I’m not racing XC anymore. Obviously, it used to be the racing I got to do all over the world, but now it’s just so nice to mix things up in training.

Since I’ve been back, I head out once or twice a week, put the headphones in and just enjoy it. Get off the roads and out of the wind. I just have to make sure I don’t get too confident in myself and keep things upright!

Thanks for your time answering our questions, Chris. Enjoy your time at home and we wish you all the best for the 2018 season!

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Upon completing Cape to Cape with fellow Shimano MTB athlete, Paul van der Ploeg. Chris finished a very formidable 19th overall! 

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(Photos: Cor Vos & Flow Mountain Bike)