Lucas Hamilton has had a busy year.
The neo-pro’s season began in January in Australia and ended in late October in China. In between Hamilton visited 10 countries and managed almost 70 race days with Mitchelton-Scott.
“It was a good season,” he reflects. “On your first year, you don’t have any expectations to get results. My goal was just to learn as much as I could, particularly from the older guys in the team.
“It was also one of the first years I got a full season under my belt,” he explains. “Last year I broke my arm in August which ended my season. The year before my season was over in late August as well. So this year was the first time I started at Ballarat and finished in October. That was a big step.”
As with most neo-pros, the season had its fair share of ups and downs. The highlight came midway through the season, with Hamilton performing admirably at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
“In your first year you spend most of the season getting it handed to you by the pros,” he admits. “You just have to hope you get a ride which reassures yourself that you can compete at that level. For me it was Dauphiné. On the second last day I was up the front with the top 10-15 guys; the day before I was on the front for four or five kilometres on the last climb.”
Two months later, though, Hamilton hit rock bottom.
“I went to America for two weeks in August,” he says. “I was not going as well as I wanted. I did Tour of Utah and Colorado – Utah was a real battle. Then I came home and my new apartment – that I had spent the year setting it up – had been completely robbed.”
The incident reinforced to Hamilton that sometimes the hardest part of being a professional rider isn’t what happens on the road.
“I think that is the thing with neos, often it is off the bike rather than on the bike that create the down points,” he says. “That was hard: trying to find a new apartment, replace all the stuff that was taken and keep focused on training at the same time. That was a big learning curve.”
Being in Girona has made Hamilton's transition to European-based professional life easier than it might have been. A large contingent of Mitchelton-Scott pros and staff are based in the Catalan city, and keep a close eye on their younger colleagues.
“They have been very understanding and supportive, which has made it a lot easier,” he says. “As a pro, you’re going to have to deal with living in a foreign country in a different languages. Just the normal things – setting up bank accounts – are a little bit more difficult. I had planned to get there and learn Spanish, but at the moment my Spanish isn’t great.”
Hamilton, who spent last season with development squad Mitchelton-BikeExchange, was fortunate to join parent team Mitchelton-Scott in 2018. The Gerry-Ryan owned outfit won the Vuelta a España in September, the first time an Australian-registered team had ever won a Grand Tour.
“I got pretty lucky to join Mitchelton-Scott this particular year,” he says. “They have had great seasons in the past, but to join the year they won their first Grand Tour was pretty amazing. You can see the passion in the team – everyone gives 100%.
“When something like that happens it is pretty special to be part of it, even if you did very little to get there!” Hamilton continues. “It also gives you confidence that this team can do whatever it sets out to do.”
That may be so, but there are natural limits to any team’s ambitions. To some observers, Mitchelton-Scott’s abundance of general classification riches – the Yates brothers, Esteban Chaves, Jack Haig – could frustrate the development of Hamilton.
But the Victorian insists he isn’t worried.
“Mitchelton-Scott has shown that it is pretty good at developing riders – young climbers especially,” he says. “You look at their general classification riders – they mostly signed with the team as neos. I’m not worried.
“My development will take its natural progression. It’s not like you are in the shadow of these other riders the whole time – they give you opportunities to step forward, and if you show you can, they give you more. The team does have a lot of GC riders, but having riders of a similar style is also good for development – you can learn a lot from them. It is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Hamilton points to Haig, just two and a half years older, as providing inspiration. The fellow Australian had a breakthrough year in 2018, helping Yates to the Vuelta crown and impressing in his own right on several occasions.
“Haigy is someone who shows that persistence is key,” Hamilton offers. “He came onto the scene a few years ago and you can see the natural progression he has had. He is now one of the key domestiques in the peloton. His work ethic is something you want to aspire to.”
After returning to Australia for the off-season, Hamilton is looking forward to a strong domestic summer. The youngster hopes he can cement his importance to Mitchelton-Scott as the team targets an imposing opening to their latest campaign.
“The summer of cycling is always a great opportunity for us Australians, to race in front of our family and friends,” he says. “I hope to become more of a key player for the team. Nationals, Tour Down Under, Cadels, Herald Sun Tour – they are very important for our team. So I want to be a key guy helping whoever our leader is.”
“Then for the season ahead it is just about stepping up again,” Hamilton muses. “Progression is all you really want in your second year. There will be a few smaller races I target for general classification, but otherwise just stepping up from this year.”
2018 has been a rollercoaster for Hamilton, but he can’t wait to get back on and ride again in 2019.
“There are a lot of reality checks in your first year,” he concludes. “But by the end of the season, you adapt to the style of races and quality of riders. At Dauphiné, I thought that maybe in a few years, after a lot more racing and more development, maybe I can be up there.
“That is still my goal – to be up there in general classification races and hillier one-day races. There are a lot of reality checks throughout the year, but also lots of confident boosters. It goes both ways.”