Interviews Teams

Coming home: Roger Hammond interview, part 1

Madison Genesis team manager on why he returned to Madison Genesis, how much the domestic racing scene has changed and how he'll manage his super-squad

Music fans eagerly awaiting a Genesis reunion last year may have been briefly confused when Madison Genesis announced a reunion of their own. In a move that surprised many in the cycling world, Madison Genesis announced in November that former team boss Roger Hammond would be returning to the team he helped to create back in 2012.

A former rider with a glittering cyclo-cross and road racing palmares, Hammond spent three years as team manager at the Madison Genesis team before departing to become a directeur sportif at Dimension Data in 2016.

In his first spell at Madison Genesis, Hammond oversaw victories in the Tour Series, Beaumont Trophy and Tour of the Reservoir. He also worked with young talents, including Alex Peters, Tom Scully and Scott Davies, he later went on to gain World Tour contracts.

He now returns to the team after a three-year spell at Dimension Data where he directed the team at some of the sport’s biggest events, including Tour de France stage victories with Mark Cavendish.

The team he inherits from former team manager Colin Sturgess is one that our British Conti Insider describes as a domestic ‘super-team’. It’s loaded with talent, including the British road race champion Connor Swift and a raft of serial winners at the domestic level including Ian Bibby, Jon Mould, Tom Moses and Jonny McEvoy.

I interviewed Hammond last month, clearly still deep in preparations for the new season, but still with time to go before the season kicks off in earnest. Unlike Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes, who begun their season early in Mallorca, Hammond’s team won’t start racing on the road until much later in the year, at the Tour de Normandie in March.

In fact, it was notable throughout the interview that there is a real contrast in the way Roger Hammond and Tim Elverson [see our interviews with Elverson here] approach team management. Hammond, for example, has capped his squad at 13 riders, Elverson has taken on 19. Madison Genesis will have a single race programme, Canyon dhb will run a double (even triple) race programme at times. Each approach has its pros and cons, and I so was keen to explore with Hammond the merits of Madison Genesis’ more concentrated modus operandi.

Photo: Madison Genesis

In this first part of a two-part interview with Hammond, I ask him why he returned to Madison Genesis, how much the domestic racing scene has changed in three years, his views on the new national road race series, how he’ll manage his super-squad, and his approach to nurturing the team’s youngster, Joe Laverick.

I feel like I really do have an impact at Madison Genesis

Roger, first of all, it’s a bit of a welcome back for you isn’t it? You’ve been away from Madison Genesis for a while at Dimension Data. So I guess the obvious question is why decide to come back to the British scene and Madison Genesis?

There’s no one specific reason and there was no major event that happened. It was just a little bit of an aligning of stars and I’ve always loved working with Kelly and Dom from Madison. They’ve always given me the freedom to run the team the way that I saw fit, and we think of the team in a similar way. Although we do discuss plans and share all of our thoughts about the team, more often than not, our ideas align before we even talk about them, so there’s not really too much discussion. 

And it’s having an impact. I feel like I really do have an impact at Madison Genesis. I hope, the dream is to be able to make a difference and I feel that that’s where I can make a difference at the moment. So to be able to make a difference in an environment where you get on well with your bosses, and can make a difference, is fairly unique I guess, and it’s a nice, welcoming thing to come back to.

What is making a difference for you?

It’s going back to what we always said right from the beginning with Madison, which is that we’re trying to create an environment that helps these guys go from parental support – that period where they can do everything with their mum and dad – and then all of a sudden there’s this void where either you make it onto the [GB] Academy or you just sort of struggle in this wilderness to try and get through to a World Tour or a Pro Conti level team.

Madison’s background is also deeply rooted in the British cycling industry. So they wanted to be able to create this team that killed two birds with one stone: providing that support and network for people to carry on from parental support to the next level; and then at the same time, providing a team that would support the British cycling industry, to have some professional racing in the UK. If we support UK races, then at least we’re one of those teams that is there and is being as professional as we can be in making it an entertaining thing for people to look at in the UK and hopefully help to grow the sport in the UK.

I think the way traditional cycling in the UK has been is going to get less and less valid as we go forward

And how much has the UK scene changed since you’ve been at Dimension Data? 

It is changing and it’s changing all of the time. I was at Dimension Data three years and it doesn’t sound very much, but it actually is almost like a generation. The elder statesmen of the British peloton are still around, but the younger guys have come through. If they were 19 when I left, they’re almost out of the under-23s now.

But also the racing calendar, the British calendar, is struggling. The teams are struggling. So it makes it more important for us to try to be a stable team and provide this stable set-up that’s looking forward. I think that’s what makes us fairly unique now and, unfortunately, JLT Condor, which was the other stable team of the British scene, has disappeared. There’s work to be done, isn’t there? I think that’s what we all know. There’s work to be done in trying to evolve cycling.

The country’s evolving and cycling’s got to evolve with it. Do we have the answers to the whole project or the whole problem? We don’t. Definitely not. But you can definitely see the way things are going, which I think cycling does have to adapt to. I think the way traditional cycling in the UK has been is going to get less and less valid as we go forward. Unless we adapt, it’s going to continue dying off. One of the things we signed up to straightaway was the Zwift KISS Super League. We’re trying to be part of any kind of innovations to make cycling more sustainable in the UK at the high end of racing in the UK [read Hammond’s views on Zwift here].

Photo: Madison Genesis

There are certainly very few stage races for teams that they can actually be guaranteed to be a part of and I think that’s a little bit of the proble

You mentioned that the road racing scene in the UK is struggling. We saw the Chorley Grand Prix disappear this season, but on the plus side, there are a few new races on the calendar as well. And there is now a single National Road Series, which British Cycling hope will give the season a stronger narrative this year. What do you make of kind of how it’s looking this year?

I don’t know, it’s one of those things where you just think there’s still quite a bit of ‘padding’ to make it into a calendar that you can justify. There are certainly very few stage races for teams that they can actually be guaranteed to be a part of and I think that’s a little bit of the problem. 

Why do I think it’s struggling? I think it’s struggling because nobody’s got continuity. Even at the World Tour level one of the problems is where is the World Tour going to be in two years? Nobody knows whether it’s going to be 15 teams or 20 teams. It’s just chaos. So every time a President of the UCI comes in, they just want to stamp their name on the UCI without thinking about the sport. The biggest part of the problem is just having something that people can sell and go to a sponsor and say, “Well look, invest your money in this and you’ll get that.”

Bringing that down to the British level it’s a little bit the same. The only things we can sell to sponsors is exposure of the Tour Series, the Tour of Britain and the Tour de Yorkshire. And realistically, two of those events are by selection. So you can’t really guarantee anything apart from the Tour Series. So it’s a little bit of a minefield in that respect, but it’s a work in progress. I’m definitely not here to bash it because it’s definitely not a simple thing to run or a cheap thing to run and it’s all about adapting to make it work for everybody. I think it’s important for us to be part of it. If we don’t have the team because you can’t be bothered, well the whole thing dies, doesn’t it? 

It would have been nice to have a more sustainable Chorley Grand Prix going on for 15 years and it building its own narrative, because then it becomes a story in its own right as a race, rather than just a one-off Chorley Grand Prix that somebody wins and then you’ve got no history. … It’s like Tour of Flanders and then 50 years later you see somebody else winning in the same race and compare it to the old days and then it has history, doesn’t it? It has a background.

And what about the squad – I guess you’ve inherited the squad this time around haven’t you?

Yeah, very much so, yes. I have inherited it. It is a strong squad, a very strong squad. But yes, it was inherited.

I just think that if you have a strong squad like we do you can aim really big in every race you go to

As you say, it’s a strong squad. Arguably the strongest on the British Conti scene. There are lots of potential leaders there, for example with Connor staying, Ian Bibby and Jon Mould coming in, Matthew Holmes still there. Is there potential for tension there? How do you kind of manage that when you’ve got riders gunning potentially to lead some of the races?

Yeah, definitely. On the other hand, I just think that if you have a strong squad like we do you can aim really big in every race you go to. I think that’s the key with our kind of racing. We’re not Sky or BMC or somebody like QuickStep at the classics or something where you just have to say right, it’s a controlled environment, where we’re going to make this race as controlled as we possibly can, which means dedicating bodies to controlling the race from kilometre zero through to the final.

I think the way that British racing works is that it’s chaotic to begin with and naturally, more often than not in the past, you just ended up having somebody in the breakaway that actually wasn’t really the greatest person up in the breakaway, but there are no other teams that are strong enough to bring it back. So the chance part – the crucial part – of the race is getting into the breakaway.

So the more of those people in your team that you have as a winner once they’re in there really is to me a strong place to be, rather than having eight guys at the start of a national series race and then having to cover early moves because invariably the races are decided in the first 30k and then it’s done. Then you have to try and win from there. So it’s better to have, if you’ve got eight riders in the team, seven of them being able to win the race from the group that does go. You’re in a lot more relaxed position then rather than right, that’s not quite the right breakaway. We have to chase it down and then start from zero again which is always quite difficult to do.

And then when we get to the bigger races in our international stage races, the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain, the problem is the opposite to the one that Dimension Data has. When I was there, the challenge was about how do you go to Tour of Yorkshire and try to win it? Well, as we get closer to the event, we have our idea of who’s going be good there and who we want to take there to be good, and it doesn’t always work out. But then we have this big pool of riders, so we can take another person to replace whoever’s sick or injured or whatever happens. So you can generally find your leader for that race.

Whereas, for a domestic team, if it’s the one highlight or two highlights of an entire season, and with a squad that’s half the size, you don’t have such a big pool of people to rotate and have in form. So to have a team of people that’s quite strong is, for us, almost necessary because it’s very difficult to get that winning form on that weekend absolutely right with everybody. Especially getting your key rider on form at the right time. So it’s almost a bit like having more people to choose from and the chances of one of them getting it right on the weekend of Tour of Yorkshire is great.

Photo: Madison Genesis

If you only have one winner, then you’ve only got one in eight chance of getting it right. Do you see what I mean? Whereas if you’ve got eight people that on their day can do it, then brilliant. The chances are, you’re going to get one or two guys that are absolutely got rockets in their legs that week and then you’ve got a chance to be in the bike race. You don’t have to wait until the Tour of Britain to try again. It’s not like you can go the following weekend to, I don’t know, the Tour of Germany or Tour of Bavaria or something and try again. It’s a long time until the next opportunity. So it’s quite nice to be in that position that we can throw some really good bike riders at it, all in.

Joe’s an intelligent young lad, so he’s going to fit in well. He’s got some determination. He’s confident … he’s got all of the attributes

You’ve also got Joe Laverick who’s a first year under 23, a very young rider. How do you think he’ll fit in and how will you manage him during the year, given that he’s quite different in age and experience to rest of the squad?

One of the reasons we set up the team initially was we thought right we’ll start with really young first year or second year seniors and then let them get on with it. But then the problem is, with no radios, it’s very difficult to give any kind of tutelage or leadership once the starting gun’s gone. So they’re sort of left to their own devices and that’s why initially we brought in Tobyn [Horton] and some older riders to really help guide the youngsters so they can learn while they’re racing. It’s all very well to have a debrief after a race, and if they make a mistake again, have another debrief and explain again, and then the next time … Whereas if you can do it live, the learning process is much, much faster and fewer mistakes are made.

I think Joe’s an intelligent young lad, so he’s going to fit in well. He’s got some determination. He’s confident. Not cocky or horrible in any way; he’s just confident. He’s willing to speak up. So he’s got all of the attributes. It’ll help him learn quickly. He’s not gonna shy away in the corner and be somebody that we’re gonna have to really look after and mollycoddle. He’ll fit in and get sucked along.

I think the difficult thing initially is trying to make sure that he doesn’t overdo it with the extra stresses of exams this year and schoolwork. It’s one of those things as a bike rider, you kind of underestimate the stress and the extra energy it takes to do that. Hopefully, it’s not changed too much since I was a student and still trying to race, but I’m certainly very mindful of the fact that he needs to get the studies done. Get them completed quickly and properly and to the best of his ability this year so that he can be a better bike rider for it once they’re done. The last thing we’d like to have is stresses of it last minute. I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be in the retake situation, but if you don’t get the grades you wanted then you’ve wasted two years rather. It’s better to invest a bit more time and get the grades you want and then go on to the next phase of your life without any stress of not having something to fall back on, which is what I always appreciated when I was trying to do the job. You’re a lot more carefree then and well if it doesn’t work, you can go back and use your qualifications to do something else.

Part 2 of this interview will be published next week.

Many thanks to Roger Hammond and Madison Genesis for the interview.