Cycling is a hard sport. All the miles needed to get the body into shape, riding in whatever the weather throws down and all the while resisting the urge to just get off the bike and sit down. You’d think it gets easier with age, but as Roger Hammond reveals, it’s quite the opposite.
British Road Champion two years on the trot from 2003, and mixing his riding up with an unhealthy dose of cyclo-cross and then spending the last two years at the Discovery Channel team, has given Roger Hammond a unique insight into the life of a British rider who’s made the ranks of the pros.
We caught up with Roger at Revolution, where he was making an exceedingly rare appearance on the track, to talk team changes, goals for next year and what it’s like to be a pro rider.
You won stage two of this year’s Tour of Britain. How did that feel?
Yeah it was really nice. First of all to ride your home tour, especially with the national team is great, and to go out and win a stage, especially with the time of year it was and that I was having. I wasn’t doing much racing with disco (Discovery Team) and four weeks out of competition and to come back and then win a stage of the Tour, it was real nice. Probably because it was un-expected than anything else, so yeah, it was good.
A team change for next year of course sees you riding for T-Mobile?
Yeah really excited, it’s going to be great. I like the vision of the team, the visions great, the setups brilliant, just going to be a nice one.
What are your goals for next year?
Goals are win bike races, I’m not going to be fussy and I’m not going to be predictive, I’m just going to go out there and try and win bike races between February and October.
You’ve now been a pro for a few years; do you think there’s still much to learn?
Yeah, for sure. Discovery was two years – you know when I went to Discovery I’d had a great year, National Champion, podium in a World Cup, top then Olympics, I was like “what more is there to learn?” I went to Discovery and I was like an under-16 there, it was incredible, just the way the team was drilled, people had their job, that’s how it was done, and I learnt a lot, a real lot. And if I look back on the two years it’s something that I’ve taken from it at least, although the results weren’t good, it’s brought me on as a bike ride.
Let’s step back a few years, to how you first got into cycling?
Fortunately my parents are involved with the sport. My dad was a keen amateur cyclist so I was brought up in the sport and had a lot of friends in the sport.
Did you ever imagine this interest would lead to being a pro cyclist?
When I was six years old I always wanted to be a pro. I remember sitting at the breakfast table saying, “one year I want to win Paris-Roubaix”, when I was six. So it’s been a long-term dream, and I went through the years as an under-16, but you know, the pro scene in Britain was dying down, and things looked less and less likely. And then I won the World Junior Championships, and even though with cyclo-cross, it was the best thing that ever happened to me in cycling, because it just meant that I had that confidence then, if I can be the best in the world as a junior, then normally, if I work hard enough I can be the best in the world as a senior. That was a change in mentality then. And then obviously I did the university thing, which delayed everything a little bit, but, you know, it was always my ambition and unless you have the ambition I think it’s too hard to do.
It’s a full-time job isn’t it?
The trouble with cycling is it’s a full-time job not only for yourself, but for your partner, your parents, and this close-knit community around you. If you talk to any pro bike rider, everyone single one of them has a close-knit community around them, that is their support group, and unfortunately for them it’s a lifestyle job, not just a nine to five, its 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. I think that’s the big difference between people that make it and don’t make it. The guys that have that really good support network.
Supports crucial then?
For me it was the most crucial thing in training, everything else is irrelevant to be honest, well not irrelevant, but that’s the easy bit, the support, uncompromised support around you is imperative.
You’re based in Belgium now. Is it really an advantage?
It’s only an advantage if you’re living there; it’s not an advantage if you don’t like the place. If it’s hard work to live there then you’re better off coming home and doing it from the UK. I just personally like the place. I feel relaxed there, I feel relaxed in the UK as well, but it just happened that for the first six years of my job I was riding Kermis and small races in Belgium, so to cut down travelling time I lived in Belgium, instead of driving eight or nine hour journeys, with a tunnel or ferry crossing, it meant I was driving half an hour or forty minutes, which, you know the race is hard enough to win anyway without giving the foreigners an advantage.