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Pro cycling's newest format, The Hammer Series, started yesterday - and people are mystified

Team-owned race format gets underway,but is it too complicated?

Today saw the beginning of what could be a revolution in professional cycling with the start of the Hammer Series - but it's a format that has left many people mystified.

In a sport where it's race owners - ASO, RCS and Flanders Classics in particular - that reap the financial rewards, the teams that actually, you know, do the racing have long pressed their noses up against the sweet shop window.

Prize money is pitiful compared to other professional sports, and as for a decent share of the lucrative income from broadcast rights? Forget it.

There’s also the issue that with some exceptions, it’s riders rather than teams that fans tend to identify with. Teams just aren’t rooted in the community the way that say a football club is – the Basque outfit Euskaltel was a notable exception, but fell victim to the vagaries of sponsorship, a common problem for all cycling teams.

And while teams in other sports such as football and rugby union have been able to coerce governing bodies into giving them a huge share of revenue, that simply hasn't been possible in cycling - because the biggest races are owned by private companies.

Teams have long sought to redress the balance. Back in 2012, there was talk of some kind of 'breakaway league' that would see them form their own competitions - World Series Cycling and a so-called Champions League of cycling were the two vehicles involved.

Neither of those came to fruition, but when 11 UCI WorldTour teams came together in November 2014 to launch Velon - best known for the on-board footage and data it provides - it was probably only a matter of time until it moved into putting on its own races.

And so yesterday, the province of Limburg in the Netherlands witnessed the opening day of the first round of the Hammer Series. What's more, local hero Tom Dumoulin, fresh from his Giro d'Italia victory, is there riding for Team Sunweb.

So, how does it work?

Well, it's a team format. Riders race for points that go towards an overall total to determine the winners of each of the three stages, and of the round.

Up to 18 teams take part in each round, including 12 UCI WorldTour teams. They each have seven riders, but only five race in each stage.

With us so far? Good.

Each round comprises three days of racing, each of which has a theme - the Hammer Sprint, the Hammer Climb and the Hammer Chase, designed to "test the strength in depth of every team" with the result that "the strongest team will be crowned the best in the world."

Velon says: "Hammer Series will push the world’s finest teams to the max across the sport's core disciplines. Cycling is a team sport with individual prizes but Hammer Series changes all that. Behind every Yellow Jersey or Maglia Rosa are committed teams who help their leaders to glory.

"Hammer Series tests sprinting, climbing and time trialling in a unique and innovative format. It's bike racing, reimagined."

Here’s an explanatory video, plus on-board highlights of yesterday’s opener.

But what did the fans and others watching make of the opening stage, the Hammer Climb covering 11 laps of a seven-kilometre circuit with a couple of hills thrown in?

Here’s some of the reaction on social media.

Of course, it’s unfair to judge a new event on the first day – but what do you make of it? Let us know in the comments below.

Meanwhile, today’s action is being streamed live on YouTube by GCN – watch it here.

 

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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