• Chris Hamilton notched up a big road victory at the 2016 Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships (Kathryn Watt)Source: Kathryn Watt
Under 23 national road race champion Chris Hamilton was considered a dead certainty for the World Tour Academy this season, but when the list was released last Wednesday, his name was absent.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
1 Mar 2016 - 2:40 PM 

The former mountain biker has instead opted to pursue his career while training in Australia under the Avanti IsoWhey Sports setup. The move is a surprise as the World Tour Academy is generally considered the pathway of choice for young riders looking to make the step up to becoming a full time professional.

World Tour Academy Head Coach, James Victor said Hamilton was offered a scholarship but the timing just wasn't right for him.

“He was looking for an opportunity to come over in the second half of the year, when the style of racing probably suits him more. I explained to him what the World Tour Academy program is about, it’s a full season process, with guys who want to be part of the program for that period.

"I personally believed that he was physically ready to go to Europe and the sooner the guys get over there and get exposed to all the different elements involved in being a cyclist. He decided that he was better off staying home and working through a different process.”

Victor was clear in his belief there are myriad factors that go into preparing the young riders, a lot of whom don’t have much life experience to go out and ride professionally in some of the hardest races.

“Some people don’t understand, whether they’re athletes or staff, just how difficult it is to race in Europe. What we present the young riders with helps prepare them to make the step to the World Tour. It’s getting more and more challenging, but you try and help them transition into that lifestyle and culture, all the while preparing them to do a pretty tough job.

"It can be ruthless from time to time, as racing and preparation goes, so if they think that it’s easy to make the transition out of Australia into that world then I don’t believe they’ve done their homework.”

With superb performances in the Australian summer of cycling, Hamilton was at his most eye catching with a fourth up Arthur’s Seat in the Herald Sun Tour, winning the young rider’s jersey in the process. An 11th on the queen stage of the Tour Down Under was also a fine turn for the Victorian youngster, with many feeling the step up to the World Tour inevitable.

But as Victor points out, the step up is about more than riding your bike.

“It’s not just the racing, I say to the young guys that going to the races with a World Tour team is the easy part of your job, because it’s all laid on. There are buses and trucks, three soigneurs and mechanics, drivers and directors and everyone’s there to wipe your bum.

"It’s the ten days or two weeks in between where you need to go away by yourself and set up to work again with the same or better condition and do that job for 9-10 months a year.”

Hamilton has opted to stay in Australia and compete with Avanti IsoWhey Sports for 2016, keeping an Australian base for the moment as he develops as a road cyclist after switching from mountain bikes. Andrew Christie-Johnston, the team's sports director spoke about the path Chris Hamilton is pursuing.

“There’s no real secret, it’s just hard work behind the scenes. We find when guys come to the team, you need enough high level racing to showcase them, but all the hard work is done in training. I think that adds a solid base, and it’s almost better not going overseas, to concentrate on their training and coaching in a good environment in Australia,” Christie-Johnson said. 

Hamilton has a long-standing relationship with Mark Fenner, who is both his personal coach and the man that oversees all of the Avanti IsoWhey Sports squad’s training. For those that have met the enthusiastic coach, his positivity and commitment are infectious, and it is small wonder that Hamilton would have preferred an option that kept him in close touch with his coach.

“Mark has probably been the biggest influence on Chris’ career to date. He and Hamo have a great relationship and I think staying with him will be a big part in Chris’ development,” Christie-Johnson said.

Victor and Christie-Johnston are two men who between them have created an assembly line of World Tour riders. Their split in philosophies show there is more than one way to advance to cycling's pinnacle. It will be interesting to see how time judges this decision.