Brendan Gallagher caught up with Madison Genesis Team Manager last week, to look ahead to 2014 and to discuss the change of moving from riding to team management last season.

YOUNG riders and their ambitions helped ensure Roger Hammond rode clean throughout his considerable career on the Continent, where he often ploughed a lonely furrow for Britain, and now the young tyros at Madison Genesis are inspiring him again with their energy and commitment.

Just turned 40, Hammond, who retired two years ago, is managing the Madison Genesis team which will be competing hard throughout the domestic British season but the Milton Keynes based-company also has the long term development of hungry British riders at heart.

“It was guys like this, or their equivalent 10-15 years ago, that kept me riding clean and motivated during my career when I spent a lot of time riding against the odds shall we say given the level of doping that was going on,” says Hammond who year after year was competitive at the highest level in the Spring Classics, especially on the cobbles, “My home in Belgium was open house for young Brits looking to make a career in cycling, I offered them a rent free room and a bit of advice when asked and what I got was a stack of energy and ambition to feed off and some very keen guys to train with.

“I would come home after a good kicking and there they would be eating beans on toast because that’s all they could afford and planning a six hour training ride the next day. That kind of passion for the sport is infectious. A very young Cav stayed with me one season and I have seen him grow from the little kid who used to wash up and tidy the place up by way thank you for the room into the greatest sprinter of his generation, possibly of all time.

“That is more than reward enough for anything I many have contributed and my aim is to take that role and philosophy into this Madison project which seemed right from the word go. Kellie Parsons from Madison came over to see me in Belgium on a Tuesday I think it was at the end of my last season and by the Friday I hadn’t just signed on the dotted line but was already rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in. Right time, right place and definitely the right challenge. The boys are much better catered for now than I could ever manage in Belgium on my own obviously but the concept is the same. With Madison’s backing I have now got 13 guys in the house so to speak!

“The big goal for me is still that aspirational thing, to help riders fulfil their potential and to make a few dreams come true. I know that sounds a bit fuzzy and nebulous but is still the ultimate. These guys are aiming for the stars and I totally support that but unless you are a one in a million athlete there are not short cuts.

“I want to see them learning how to win races and perform as strongly as possible on the British domestic circuit which is really busy and competitive these days. In ten years time when perhaps one of them comes into Roubaix Velodrome in a lead group of three I want them to instinctively know how to win a race because when you are that knackered it has to be second nature. You must have wins like Lincoln Grand Prix and Tour of the Reservoir on your palmares. Looking back I’m sure I missed out on a couple of good results on Roubaix because I didn’t have that honed racing instinct.”

Hammond, talking to me at the launch of the 2014 Pearl Izumi Tour Series, makes no attempt to deny that he found his debut season in charge last season difficult in terms of handing the logistics and administration required to keep even a small team on the road and that transition from top competitor to boss/mentor/coach can be very fraught throughout all sport. After years of consciously having to be self-centred and ‘looking after number one’ to survive and flourish in a cut throat competitive environment you have to broaden your horizons and put everybody’s else’s needs first.

“It’s quite a change of mindset. Instead of getting one person to the airport on time you have got deliver a complete team of riders and back up staff to the right place at the right time. Your victory is now to see somebody else winning or doing well but conversely you feel defeat every time one of your riders finishes among the also rans or underperforms. Given that there can only ever be one winner that’s a lot of accumulated defeat and angst to take on board.”

“I am significantly less stressed than I was this time last year,” concedes Hammond who will be in Majorca for then days now training with the squad. “My most significant memory of last year was must putting out fires, mostly fires created by myself by forgetting something or cocking something up! I owe a big debt to Madison for trusting in me and letting me make my mistakes as a ‘rookie’ manager. I was out of my depth but luckily I was surrounded by really good people who knew exactly what they were doing. And now this season, with the structure in place and with me having a better understanding of what needs to be done I can work much more on the little things that will hopefully make a difference. We can start getting into marginal gains and all that.

“In many ways the difference between managing and riding isn’t massive. It’s still a bottomless pit of energy, time and commitment that you must put in and that constant striving to improve. But the one huge difference is that as a rider, being brutally honest, what you put in is what you get out. As a manager it’s much more unpredictable. As a rider if I trained hard I got good results, if I went through the motions I got average results and if I couldn’t be bothered I got nothing. It was black and white. As a team manager that’s not quite the case. No matter hard how I work to get the guys to the start line in good shape I am not ultimately in charge. From that moment apart from a bit of bellowing from the Team Car there isn’t much I can do.

“There were times last season when I thought I had got everything just right and yet we didn’t really perform and there were other occasions when everything seemed to be going wrong in the build-up and yet bizarrely we rode well on the day. That lack of control on events takes a bit of getting used to because as a racer you are trying to control the race all the time. I have gone from thinking mainly about one person – myself – to taking on board 13 riders’ hopes and aspirations. It’s like a huge three dimensional jigsaw puzzle and after not really using my brain for 15 years or more I am trying to re-engage the grey matter.

“We are not racing at the very top but I find it very easy to immerse myself at this level. Everybody in this team is trying to realise a dream so it’s a joy to feed off their motivation. In fact this is a great level of rider to work with because all the lads still have those burning dreams and aspirations and are improving as cyclists and athletes on an almost weekly basis.

“When you get on the Pro Tour very quickly many riders find their niche and designated job and specialisation. I have roomed with so many Pro Tour riders and you talk with them the night before a stage or a race and they know their precise limited role – get to the first feed, get to the second feed, work until the final climb. That’s the job, it isn’t all about wining and personal glory, but it can be quite claustrophobic. There isn’t that feeling of anything is possible – anything could happen in the stage tomorrow – you get with young professionals at Madison and other teams at this level. Being part of that process helping them towards the future whatever that maybe is pretty cool. I’m loving it, I feel like I’m immersing myself in something really good.”

Last season Ian Bibby’s win at the London Nocturne and Dean Downing’s Beaumont Trophy were the team’s best results along with a strong ninth in GC by Liam Holohan at the Tour de Taiwan but Hammond has moved to strengthen the squad this year, especially after the departure of Downing. In come New Zealand powerhouses Tom Scully (pictured left, winning in Ipswich) and Michael Northey who have been riding hard on the track all winter while Tobyn Horton excelled last year for the now defunct Team UK Youth who won The Pearl Izumi Tour Series.

“We needed to expand. The British season is long and as the season went on I could some of the guys tiring so we have added three extra riders but the core strength of the squad has increased as well. The strength in depth means the guys will now be fighting to get into the team which is great, a nice bit of healthy internal rivalry is always good. The Pearl Izumi Tour Series is really important for us – people can follow it, there is a lot good exposure and we want to do well. Then there will be Pruudential RideLondon and hopefully The Tour of Britain. They are the blocks around which we build our season, if we can fit in continental races we do, but the British circuit comes first.”