The Movistar Team couldn’t have got off to a better start in the Hammer Series, the innovative multi-day, team event whose first-ever round takes place around Sittard, in the Netherlands’ Limburg region, from Friday through Sunday. An exceptional performance from Carretero, Soler, Barbero, Oliveira and most notably an inspiring Carlos Betancur led the squad directed by Pablo Lastras to a convincing victory in the Hammer Climb, a lumpy circuit (11 laps, 78km) over the Vaalserberg ascent, which the Colombian and his team-mates dominated.
Following good vigilance work from Marc and Nelson at the opening two laps, Carlos went into action through the third sprint, the first of three rushes with double points (20 for the winner) and quickly made up an early advantage from Sky and BMC, which soon turned into a deficit for the two as Betancur also won sprint no. 4. It had been, though, just the start of a one-man-show by the Antioquia native: no less than five other sprints were won by ‘Charlie’, who never came through worse than second place at the remaining ones. His superiority over the rest of the field was evident at the final lap, where he got rid of early attacker Victor Campenaerts (TLJ) and raised his arms victorious at the symbolic finishing line.
The Movistar Team’s resounding victory -144.8 points to Sunweb’s 98.9 (Dumoulin as best performer) and Sky’s 84.7 (Geoghegan Hart)- also rewards the Blues with a 15″ bonus for the Hammer Chase, the TTT pursuit format that will take the race to an end on Sunday. Before that, the telephone squad -with Alex Dowsett replacing Oliveira- will face a tough test to their leadershipa abitilies at the Hammer Sprint, a completely flat route (12.4km, eight laps) in Sittard that will define the starting places for the last stage. For the time being, the Movistar Team will enjoy the 27th victory of their most consistent season ever in four decades of existence.
Carlos Betancur: “I’ve worked hard during the past weeks, with some altitude training in Andorra, adding lots of mileage to my account this year and trying to get ready for this important part of the season. A squad like this always requires from you to be really fit and consistent. The team is helping me out a lot to get back on track, and the results from the work we’ve done lately are really showing today.”
Nelson Oliveira: “It was less than 80 kilometers, but it was full gas the whole time. I can’t remember a start of a stage faster than today’s. It was a really crazy race, flat-out from the very beginning, in both the climbs and the descents. In the end, we were able to take the day’s honours with strong team-work. We can’t feel happier about what we did today. Things will be completely different tomorrow on the flatter course, but of course we’ve got to try and win the whole thing on Sunday after such a result today.”
Pablo Lastras [Sports Director]: “We knew that, out of those three stages, Friday’s course was the one that suited us best, and we took advantage from it. I want to underline the fantastic behaviour from all five riders. They worked really well together, were completely focused on going full-gas from the very start, and that was the key for victory. At the strategy talk before the stage I tried to make them realize that we had to make this race prestigious, to make it really count. This format deserves an opportunity, and it was an important day for our team, for all teams and sponsors. As Eusebio usually says, one who gets to this kind of races relaxed struggles twice more than one who just goes flat-out. These are tremendously stressful races, ones where you go on full steam from the start, and that’s why a correct attitude is key to win it. Obviously, Betancur was crucial for the success. He’s got back to being the one that we all knew and loved. He’s finding a reward to all the hard work he’s gone through during the last few months. It will be harder for us tomorrow at the Hammer Sprint, but I think we can still go for the top places before the chase. We won’t relax at all.”