• Centre of picture - Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott) during the 21st Santos Tour Down Under 2019, Stage 4 a 129,2km stage from Unley to Campbelltown (Getty)Source: Getty
A tremendous performance secured a historic back-to-back Tour Down Under overall win for Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) but keen observers handed out near-equal plaudits for key teammate on the climbs, Lucas Hamilton.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
21 Jan 2019 - 8:19 AM  UPDATED 21 Jan 2019 - 8:23 AM

There are two accepted methods of winning the overall classification on the modern Tour Down Under course: chasing bonus seconds and then hanging tough on the climbs; or simply being so dominant uphill it doesn’t matter how many bonuses are accrued by opponents.

Either way, you’re going to need some support from your team to make up for your deficiency and to set up your strength.

In the 2019 edition, Hamilton proved crucial in guiding Impey through the key points of the race, when all other team members were dropped.

On Stage 3, when Michael Woods launched his brutal assault, Hamilton paced Impey up the climb and then took to the front, leading the South African out for an eventual third place.

As a select group of four attacked over the top of the Corkscrew on Stage 4, Hamilton chased down the breakaway, then mustered the energy to once again lead out Impey, this time for the stage win.

“If I didn’t have Lucas there in the final, I wouldn’t have been that close to Richie at the end,” said Impey, “especially on the day that I won. He’s a young rider with a lot of potential.

The crowning moment for Impey came on top of Willunga Hill, where again Hamilton was key, setting a solid, consistent tempo for the eventual race winner to follow as all hell broke out in the wake of Richie Porte’s attack.

“If you saw last year, Daryl left his run pretty late and was able to gain a lot on the climbers,” said Hamilton. “I was basically there to block the wind, and today it was a block headwind on the climb, it suited.

“I was able to get Daryl to that 500 metre mark, where he can just use that in-the-saddle power he has. I was happy to be able to deliver for him because he’s a great guy and when you pull for a guy like Daryl, you know he’s going to deliver.”

Being the most visible helper for Impey at the crucial points of the race attracted a lot of praise for Hamilton, but the Ararat local was quick to point out he was just fulfilling his role in the team.

“We have different sections of the team,” said Hamilton. “We have the bigger guys, that you obviously need at the Tour Down Under because it can be windy and there’s quite a lot of flat stages. Me and Cameron Meyer were always going to be the guys on the hills, and we were always going to play a role on stages like today.

“The team – we went into the bottom of Willunga right on the front – all the big guys go back into that front group and it was hard up Willunga the first time this year. It was a full team effort.”

Hamilton has made a habit of drawing attention on Willunga Hill. As a 19-year-old in 2016, he was the first to attack on the final time up the famous ascent, building a gap off the front of the race before the inevitable Porte surge saw the youngster surpassed.

Three years later, Hamilton has shown he doesn’t just flash talent in top-level races, he has the ability to shape the final outcome.

“Last time I did TDU, I didn’t finish as well as I did now,” said Hamilton, referring to his 23rd on Willunga Hill in 2017. “I’ve done it three times now and it’s good as it’s a race I’ve done since I started racing on this bigger scene and it’s good to be able to see a progression.”

Daryl Impey sung the praises of Hamilton in his post-race press conference, though he reserved similar commendation for the rest of the squad.

“If I didn’t have Lucas there in the final, I wouldn’t have been that close to Richie at the end,” said Impey, “especially on the day that I won. He’s a young rider with a lot of potential.

“The whole team though, it’s not one guy, that’s important to state. Lucas and I can do our job in the final because of great teamwork.”

Sports director Matt White was similarly effusive of Hamilton and his development into a rider of the future. The Mitchelton-Scott set-up made a concerted decision to target Hamilton above a cohort of very strong Australian climbing talent in his age group, with Jai Hindley and Michael Storer (now on the WorldTour with Team Sunweb) both part of the Mitchelton-Scott feeder squad at the same time as Hamilton.

Lucas’ namesake Chris (Sunweb - no relation) and Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) were also part of that generation, but the Australian WorldTour squad anointed Hamilton as a star of the future by prioritising his signature above the others.

“He’s a very, very talented young man,” said White. “We knew that coming through our development team and last year was his first-year pro. And he’s progressing very well.

“We’ve got big things planned for him, but one step at a time. One part of that progression is to include him in a group of… this is high-pressure for us and working in that group of guys. That’s where you learn, you learn from being around a group of experienced guys and we certainly have a team of experienced campaigners here.”

Mitchelton-Scott are renowned for bringing their climbing talent along slowly, with a rider like Jack Haig graduating from domestique to key lieutenant to the cusp of outright leadership in the past few seasons. Hamilton is taking a similar path to whatever his own future holds.