• Lucas Hamilton on the attack in the Tour Down Under that initially brought him to the world's attention (Supplied)Source: Supplied
For Lucas Hamilton, life is always about climbing. Climbing over obstacles, towards his goals and of course, literal mountains.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
13 Jan 2017 - 11:02 AM  UPDATED 13 Jan 2017 - 7:47 PM

The youngster from Ararat is just one of several talented under 23 riders who will be called upon to show their wares throughout the summer, which he'll do as a member of the UniSA-Australia and KordaMentha Real Estate teams.

Hamilton caught the cycling public’s attention during the queen stage of the 2016 Santos Tour Down Under, where he threatened to upset the big names after launching himself from the group of favourites on the final ascent of Wilunga Hill. 

For many, it was their first sighting of a prodigious talent but for those within the cycling community, it was just more confirmation of his talent.

After the showing on the slopes of Wilunga, the rest of 2016 was all about learning his craft with the Jayco World Tour Academy, racing in the big under 23 races in Europe.

Hamilton recently sat down with Cycling Central to talk about his past season.

“It was a really good experience for me,” he said. “The racing in Europe is very different and it takes a while to get used to but I learnt a lot.”

The season started with a racing block in Belgium with the team management looking to offer the riders a different challenge from previous seasons. 

Racing over cobbles and navigating the peloton in tight confines with traffic furniture sprawling across the road doesn't suit the skinny Hamilton but he coped with the conditions while honing his racecraft.

“It was a steep learning curve and it didn’t necessarily really suit me, it was mostly flat with short, punchy climbs," Hamilton confirmed. "But I think I gained the most out of that in all of the season. 

"We got thrown in the deep end and it helped us develop those bunch skills that wouldn’t be gained if we just did all the mountain races.”

The theme of a constant search for improvement is a familiar one with Hamilton. Last season he said he wanted to improve his sprint and a year later, the only rider who bettered him in the under 23 road national championships criterium and road race sprints was track rider Alex Porter.

A confident and driven character, you sense Hamilton enjoys nothing more than working toward a goal.

“It’s a continual thing of finding things that you can improve on to make yourself a more complete bike rider. The next thing could be race tactics or something like that. 

"I’m looking forward to doing more races, coming up in the summer and beyond where I’m not just another rider in the ‘pelo’, I’m racing for the win.”

Getting the win was something that never quite came for Hamilton last year, he won a kermesse in Belgium, but in the big races, victory eluded him. The key period of the season was the block of mountain racing in August where Hamilton was expected to excel. He watched his teammates take wins in the prestigious Italian classics, with Jai Hindley winning the picturesque GP Capodarco and Michael Storer taking out the GP Poggiana while Hamilton bided his time.

The big goal however, was the premier race for under 23 riders, the Tour de l’Avenir. Hamilton was gearing up for a top performance but disaster struck as sickness hit the 20-year-old early in the race. 

He lost over 20 minutes on Stage 3 and was still feeling the effects when the road tilted skywards toward terrain that suited him. He recovered rapidly to get himself away in some breaks and collect mountain points, then on the final stage he was in the peloton with the big favourites and race leader and rode away from all of them, only beaten on the day by the lone breakaway rider.

“It was bitter sweet getting that second,” Hamilton said. “l’Avenir was the big goal for the season and I got really sick. It was good to finish on a positive because it was one of the toughest races I’ve ever had to do. That was a big result for me, more so because of the way it started off. It was good to show that I’m able to climb with the best at that level and it gives me confidence going into 2017.”

Despite not taking a standout win, Hamilton was the first to ever Australian to win a jersey at the Tour de l’Avenir, taking out the mountains classification. Combined with other strong showings, it was enough to ensure that he was pre-selected for the UniSA and Korda Mentha teams for the big races of the Australian summer.

“Yeah, it was nice and it took the stress off nationals a bit, going in knowing that I had a ride for those big races, plus the recognition for the performance during the season.

"The Herald Sun Tour definitely suits me a bit more but that’s not to say that the Tour Down Under won’t. There’s a tough stage in Paracombe, pretty hard circuits of Stirling then you finish up that steep climb in Paracombe. I’m not sure what the plan is yet, we haven’t really discussed it, but we’ve got a good team to get some results.”

The lean physique of Hamilton is built for going uphill and that’s where the bulk of his results have been in the past, but the Ararat local believes that he can also be effective on the punchy climbs of a race like the Cadel Evans Road Race.

“I think that’s true more so now than ever before. It’s true the long, steep climbs suit me, probably short and steep as well.

"Cadel’s race is really tough, going around that finishing circuit a few times. It’s probably a bit like nationals, with that climb on the circuit although you don’t do it as many times. I’m really looking forward to racing it. Last year we saw that the attack from the hill can win it.”

The summer of Australian racing doesn’t take a back seat to the other goals in the season for Hamilton and now he will have expectations of good performances on his shoulders after his showings last year.

“I take the Australian summer pretty seriously but you definitely don’t want to prepare too much then get burnt out by the time you get to Europe," he said. "If you plan it right and do the right things you can race it pretty hard in summer and take things pretty seriously.

"We don’t do another World Tour event all year, so there’s no slacking, we are driven and train hard for it. You always have the Tours later in the season in the back of your head, the Baby Giro is back this season, Aosta and l’Avenir are tours that I definitely want to do well in.”

The prospect of racing against Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves over a parcours that will suit Hamilton in the Herald Sun Tour is perhaps the best chance for the young climber to show his ability.

“I’d like to go down the pathway of being a GC rider and those guys are role models for me and racing against them will be a pretty surreal feeling. I’d like to be as good as those guys, whether it happens or not is another story. It will be pretty special to see them go up climbs I know and have trained on, like Tawonga and Falls.”