It was a strange year for all in the world and in the world of cycling, but the height of the oddities hit at the Giro d'Italia, with favourites crashing out, teams excluded and unlikely candidates for victory coming out of the woodwork.
For Mitchelton-Scott, there were a lot of reasons to be optimistic at race start in Sicily, the team sported one of the favourites in Simon Yates, fresh off beating most of his major competition at Tirreno-Adriatico where he posted a convincing win on the queen stage and won overall. Hamilton won a stage as well, his first in WorldTour competition. By the first rest day of the Giro d'Italia, the entire team was out of the race after too many coronavirus positives, a Grand Tour that already hadn't been going the Australian team's way.
“Obviously, everyone was super disappointed," said Hamilton. "The whole race for us was a whirlwind. We came into as the first or second favourite to win with Yatesy (Simon Yates).
"We put on a good show at Tirreno, we were strong there and it was pretty much the same team for the Giro – we just added Damo (Damien Howson) as we could have an extra rider. From that to all of a sudden having a really bad day on Etna.
"Everyone was disappointed, but we thought we could come back from that. With Yatesy getting COVID… you’re trying to race one of the biggest races in the world, we’re into it now and you’re starting to get tired, and then overnight at the hotel it’s starting to get hectic. Someone’s gone positive for Covid, it got very hard to manage, a little bit of a tornado effect. Then, you’re also trying to do your best every time you line up on the start line.
For Hamilton personally, a few crashes and their effects had seen him lose time on the general classification early on, but on the final stage before the opening rest day, he kicked clear of the group of favourites on the final climb, with fellow promising climber and eventual Giro-winner Tao Geoghegan Hart locked on his wheel, refusing to swap turns before jumping away before the finish and taking some extra seconds on Hamilton.
Geoghegan Hart actually sat behind the Australian after that stage of the race, in 17th to Hamilton's 15th overall.
"I felt like I was beginning to come good when we got kicked," said Hamilton. "I was getting better and better, I didn’t have a great start. I had a couple of crashes earlier in the race, I crashed in the opening TT, and a couple of stages after that. I was starting to come good and when we left I was super disappointed as I felt I was starting to project towards a personal best result for me."
Hamilton has long projected as a generational talent in Australian cycling, a climber with a great team attitude and will to improve. His big race opportunities have been limited however, and when the likes of Geoghegan Hart and Hindley are running rampant it's easy to think that Hamilton could have been right up there with him as they have projected in the past as similar talents.
“For me, it’s very easy to sit on the bed in hotel quarantine and say that I can perform at that level but those boys they were hot and running well," said Hamilton. "Especially Jai for me was racing really strong. I’ve raced with Jai since our junior days, raced together a long time now and I was really happy to see him do that. If any in the sport deserves to be riding at that sort of level, it’s Jai. He puts in a lot of hard work.
"I can take a bit of confidence from their performances. I know those guys really well and maybe one day, if it all comes together for me a bit, I can put in a similar performance.
The 24-year-old has the faith of the GreenEDGE organisation as the next Australian general classification candidate, perhaps most evident in the team extending his contract to the end of 2022. What was most notable was that the choice was a year out from when Hamilton's deal was to come due, the strategy of early deals has mostly been reserved for the likes of Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers in the past, general classification stars.
For Hamilton, there are a few key areas that he's been working on to improve into the sort of rider that can regularly contend for the overall win at big races.
“I think there’s a couple of things for me at the moment," said Hamilton. "My TT is one thing, I improved on it a lot this year but I didn’t get to show it much because I crashed in the first TT and didn’t make it to the second one.
"The other is racing more Grand Tours. I’ve only done one now, that was second this year and I didn’t finish it. You look at other guys and they’re three in at my age. It’s not been a lack of the team, just been unlucky. I did one in my second year and then we get kicked out this year. I noticed the difference after doing one, maybe two or three will give me the extra resilience and experience that I need.
In Part 1 of the interview with Hamilton, he talked about the Australian summer and how that will necessarily take a bit of a back seat to later ambitions for a Tour de France start.
"This year it’s a bit of a different approach for me," said Hamilton of the early season. "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."
This writer spoke to a fresh-faced Hamilton back when he was 19 and fresh off winning the queen stage of the National Capital Tour, and he nominated the Tour de France as his dream race for the future.
"Well the Tour has to be the pick, it's the biggest race that everyone wants to go and win, to get there would be a dream," said Hamilton back in 2015.
In 2021, perhaps it will be the time for Hamilton to realise that ambition, and more than that, to go there with serious prospects of riding among the best. Hamilton stopped short of saying that he would be a leader for the team in the biggest race in the world, focusing on making the selection first.
“I think at the moment I’ll go there to perform, but also I’ve got to make the squad," said Hamilton. "There’s a lot of things that go wrong before then but also a lot that can go right. For me personally, it’s about making the squad before I worry about what I’m going to be doing there.
"That’s a big goal of mine, that will be my peak for the season. I hope to go there and try and ride my own race a little bit, but there’s a lot that can happen between now and then."
There's been a lot of work and struggle for that ambitious 19-year-old saying that he'd love to ride the Tour de France one day to the more mellow top-tier climber who is viewing the chance to line up at his first Tour, but for Hamilton that road has been made easier by his fit within the GreenEDGE setup. The relationship seems only to be trending upwards at present.
“I’m starting to progress into a potential leader and the team is supporting me no end," said Hamilton. "Obviously, it’s an Aussie team, I have a lot of mates there and I really enjoy every race I go to. For them to be supporting me and having the same sort of goals as myself, it’s a sweet spot for me, not everyone gets that. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do going forward."