No it’s not the next reality TV show, it’s the new international race series created by Infront and Velon. When it comes to bike racing there’s a spectrum of what fans demand; some firmly plant their stake in the traditionalist camp, whilst others want to see innovation and change. Although the The Hammer Series, launched on Wednesday 1st March, may not be revolutionary, it’s certainly a change from the common format of racing out there today.

Heralded by organisers Infront Sports & Media and Velon as ‘ground-breaking’, its design is high intensity racing, set out over three days in a team against team model. There will be no lead superstar standing solo on a podium receiving cuddly toys and bouquets; this is fight together, die together racing. Points are awarded to each rider in the team, meaning there's no hiding, or cruising along in the grupetto–everyone counts.

Each day brings a different type of racing, meaning there is something for all. Day one sees The Hammer Sprint, criterium style laps that give the sprinters their stage. Day two–The Hammer Climb, no guessing for who this stage will favour. There is no set pattern for the first two days, they can be alternated at the discretion of the event organisers. Then day three sees The Hammer Chase, where the leading team from the two previous days starts first and is hunted down by the rest of the pack. It’s starting to sound more Hunger Games than bike racing.

The Rules

Day 1 – Hammer Sprint

Two hours of blistering entertainment. Each team’s chosen five riders take on ten laps of approximately 10km* each. Points are awarded for the top ten riders to cross the line at the end of each lap. Double points may be awarded on certain laps. Bonus time gaps are awarded per position after Day 1, which count toward the starting time gaps for the Hammer Chase.

Day 2 – Hammer Climb

A two-hour pain-fest you can’t keep your eyes off. Each team’s chosen five riders take on a multi-lap challenge of a course specially designed with a punishing hilltop finish line. Total elevation, average and maximum gradients and climb lengths will vary from race to race – but all will test the world’s strongest climbing teams. Points are awarded for the top ten riders to cross the line at the end of each lap – with the same points structure as the Hammer Sprint. Again, double points may be awarded on some laps. Bonus time gaps are awarded per position after Day 2, which count toward the starting time gaps on Day 3. The leader boards for the Hammer Sprint and Hammer Climb are then aggregated to determine the starting position for the Hammer Chase. Fixed time gaps between positions are adjusted based on time bonuses gained during the first two days.

Day 3 – Hammer Chase

Team Chase is a fox-and-hounds team pursuit on Time Trial bikes. Each team chooses five riders for the 50km circuit TTT with their fourth-placed finisher’s front wheel the piece of carbon fiber to keep your eyes on! Teams set off with a staggered start. The leading team after the first two days goes off first, the second-placed team sit for an agonising 30 seconds and watch them disappear into the distance… and then their gun goes off. The third placed team sweats it out for another 25 seconds – then they go. Fourth team feel the adrenalin surging for 20 more seconds before they’re released. Then it’s 15-second gaps between all the remaining teams. Fixed time gaps to be adjusted based on time bonuses gained during the first two days. All teams must stay in their own formation – no drafting other teams.

And now there’s nowhere to hide… it’s a race to the finish line for the most dramatic possible climax to the three-day challenge.

Re-establish the Strength of Cycling

The first in the series will be held in Limberg, Netherlands running between the 1st – 4th June 2017, with more dates to be announced over the coming months. A race concept that Infront and Velon have been squirreling away on for over a year with input from riders and teams. Organisers have said that spectator experience is at the top of the tick list and they promise there will be entertainment for all, with mass family participation events, cycling festivals, expos etc. there’s more fun than you can shake a stick at; and with circuit courses this means fans get to see more of the action.

Stephan Herth, Infront’s Executive Director Summer Sports says: “The new race series guarantees comprehensive cycling action, which is appealing, modern and accessible for fans. This will ultimately lead to re-establish the strength of cycling and position it as an appealing product for media, sponsors and fans.”

The Teams

Aqua Blue Sport (IRE)
Bahrain–Merida Pro Cycling Team (BAH)
BMC Racing Team (USA)
Cannondale – Drapac Professional Cycling Team (USA)
Quick-Step Floors (BEL)
Lotto Soudal (BEL)
Movistar Team (ESP)
Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise Pro Cycling Team (BEL)
Team Lotto NL Jumbo (NED)
Team NIPPO Vini Fantini (ITA)
Team Sky (GBR)
Team Sunweb (GER)
Trek – Segafredo (USA)
UAE Team Emirates (UAE)

With a mix of WorldTour and Pro Continental teams already signed up and more still to be registered, Velon have promised to engage fans with onboard footage and live rider data, including power, heart-rate, speed and cadence. All available to fans through the Velon website, app and social media channels. Velon–a business designed to generate different revenue streams for teams through technology, has taken another step closer to bringing data to the forefront of racing. An already strong showing of support for the new race series can be seen from many team principals, CEOs and riders.

Thoughts and Quotes

“Whenever I win I always say the same thing – it wouldn’t be possible without the team. We go to the biggest races with what we think is the strongest team, and what’s great about the Hammer Series is it will really put that to the test. It’s something new and a chance for fans to see teams competing directly against each other.” – Chris Froome, Team Sky

“A series that will decide who is the strongest team in the world is a really fascinating idea. The formula, sprint, climb and pursuit, is a winning one and certainly will appeal to a lot of cycling fans. I am very happy to be part of this exciting project. Cycling needs to find new frontiers that can combine sport and entertainment. This series will give a new energy to the world of professional cycling, and this for the teams will be very important. The teams will have new visibility and the opportunity to grow their image.” – Vincenzo Nibali, Team Bahrain Merida

“Clearly the sprint stage interests me a lot but the whole format is very interesting. I think it showcases our sport in a way that hasn’t happened before. The roads around that area have a lot of cycling history and tradition attached and it will be great to ride there in this new event. It looks like a big opportunity for Aqua Blue Sport to showcase what we are about, our fighting spirit and ‘never give in’ way of riding. I am really looking forward to getting to this event and working with the other riders and the staff to give the fans three days of great entertainment. Hopefully I will be able to get a result for the team and our supporters.” – Adam Blythe, Aqua Blue Sport

“We all love the spectacle of the peloton and the colour, noise and excitement of a cycle race. Fans are the lifeblood of cycling, we want to give them the best possible entertainment – this series will certainly give people the best view of their favourite riders. We are looking forward to taking part and we will bring Aqua Blue Sport’s fighting spirit to the event, and who knows, we may get to stand on the top step of the podium.” – Stephen Moore, General Manager, Aqua Blue Sport

“It is with great pleasure that we will be part of this amazing new series, we at Bahrain-Merida welcome new challenges and this one we will face with enthusiasm, our riders are definitely excited and looking forward to racing in something new.” – Brent Copeland, General Manager, Bahrain-Merida Pro Cycling Team

“The introduction of the new series signals a new stage in cycling. The objective of Velon is to bring the rider experience closer to fans and the introduction of the three-day Hammer Series races is doing just that. The idea of having a new format of race each day not only increases the excitement around the race but allows fans to experience different race scenarios; sprint, climb and pursuit. It’s the emphasis on teamwork that is most important and that’s why we are happy to be involved in the series. BMC Racing Team that prides itself on a strong teamwork ethic, so what better way to put it to the test than with the new series.” – Jim Ochowicz, Manager, BMC Racing Team

Words: Hannah Troop, Hammer Series Photos: Noah Haxel (Ride like a Pro – With Team Giant-Alpecin at De Ronde)