A re-imagined Santos Tour Down Under, the Santos Festival of Cycling will see Greenedge (formerly Mitchelton-Scott) line up as the only WorldTour team on the startline, with Hamilton set to be the team's main rider to go head to head with Richie Porte on the famed climb of Willunga Hill.
“Having Richie there, even when the whole WorldTour peloton is there in pretty good shape, he still smokes everyone," said Hamilton in an interview with SBS Cycling Central. "There’s going to be a lot of emphasis around him hanging around until that last climb. I think for us as a team we go in there motivated.
"Even if it’s not a WorldTour race anymore, it’s still an Aussie race and an Aussie team. We’ll go in just as motivated. It’s about trying to get some early wins on the board on home soil.”
At this stage, the reduced Australian season will be the Santos Festival of Cycling, the Bay Criteriums and the Australian national road race championships, with the Melbourne to Warrnambool to round things off.
Hamilton has been impressive before at the two marquee events of that calendar, the normally WorldTour-level Tour Down Under and the nationals road race, but may balance his ambitions this summer with goals further down the line and didn't come out and say that he'd be a favourite to beat Porte, instead focusing on the abilities of his teammates.
"This year it’s a bit of a different approach for me," said Hamilton. "My main goal is going to be trying to make the Tour team and for me that’s July, it’s a little way away.
"As much as I’m looking forward to these races, it’s more of a building block, the start of the season. It’s really good that they’re on, I can have my first race on home soil, but maybe without the emphasis going for the win. Also, there’s just Willunga this year, normally there are two climbing stages. We’ve got fast guys in Kaden (Groves) and Edmo (Alex Edmondson) to get maybe a couple sprint wins."
Nationals is the next big item on the agenda, a double defence for the men's team, with Cameron Meyer, the reigning road race champion, returning alongside last year's time-trial champion Luke Durbridge (fourth TT win in total). For Hamilton, the nationals have been an important part of his development, with good results on the Buninyong course in the past having secured his position on the Under-23 WorldTour academy team and when he turned professional, were a good early way to help the team and contribute to a team result.
Despite it being the scene of triumphs of a personal nature in the past, the 24-year-old has never won in Ballarat, a neighbouring city of his home town Ararat.
“I think there is a bit of unfinished business there," said Hamilton. "I’ve finished on the podium a couple of times, a lot of top-tens… to win it would be ideal.
"To finish in second place in nationals doesn’t go too far… when you win you get a jersey. I think for me, coming out of TDU, I’ll be further along in my fitness and I can go for a result there."
The 2020 road race was supposed to be one for Hamilton to win, he was the one set to attack on the final lap and jump away for the win, but instead, he attacked on the penultimate lap, got brought back by a determined chase, which then allowed his teammate Meyer to launch the decisive assault and go solo for an emotional victory.
“Last year was a weird one," said Hamilton of his move. "I personally went at what I thought was the right moment. It’s not often that you see three WorldTour guys work together in that race and they brought me back, that opened the door for Cam. I hadn’t been that late in the race before and been able to attack, it was a big confidence boost for future national championships."
It's always a bit of a list of pros and cons for Australian riders and the decision whether to come back home during the offseason. Good weather, good riding, seeing family and friends, riding the early season races, those are the good parts. Leaving your overseas life and partner, training and racing too much, and focusing on non-team goals are the drawbacks.
Many Australian riders don't come back, basically at all. Michael Matthews and Jack Haig are Europeans these days if you judged it off where they live. One rider that has come back every year in his young career to train and race is Lucas Hamilton.
"I always love coming back and seeing friends and family, in Melbourne and Ararat," said Hamilton. "I think in a normal year obviously TDU, Cadels and Sun Tour are big goals for our team. We’re an Aussie team and that’s always going to be the case.
"It’s good for me, I really enjoy coming home, the two or three months I get here allows me to escape a bit and reset for the next year. I love training back home and it fits really well with the Aussie racing. TDU and nationals are big goals, to pull them and have a win in a normal year would be great, but it’s not something that I have my eyes set on all the time."
This year, there are the additional complexities with the coronavirus situation and the myriad of lockdowns, travel restrictions and race cancellations to navigate.
“I think it was a hard one, everyone had their own sort of mixed emotions about it, whether it was a good idea or a bad idea," said Hamilton. "For me, I could see that Melbourne was going to be opening up more and more whereas Europe was going the opposite way. Going into colder months and I could see it escalating to the point where we’d be in some sort of lockdown again.
"We left the Giro early and it opened up this door to really get back, to get the two weeks done while I was in my offy and there was no stress to get training done. For me, it was about coming back and having some freedom.
"I live by myself over there and I already did the lockdown during the year, so I thought it would be better to come back and have some company at least."
A crucial part of any cyclist's training is recovery, but less study is focused on mental and long-term recovery from the emotional and physical stresses placed on riders during a race season. Hamilton's Australian return method works well for him at present to put himself in the best position for success at other points of the season.
Check back on Christmas Day for Part 2 of the interview, discussing Hamilton's plans with GreenEDGE for the rest of the 2021 season, and the disappointment of a 2020 Giro d'Italia campaign cut short.