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Australia’s next big star? Lucas Hamilton impresses in grand tour debut

Following a strong Giro, grand tour rookie Lucas Hamilton has some wondering if he's Australia's next star

Every sport director has a front-row seat to the nuances of pro bike racing. And during the three weeks of the Giro d’Italia, Mitchelton-Scott’s Matt White came away with one very clear conclusion: Australian rider Lucas Hamilton is the real deal.

So much so that White is calling the 23-year-old a potential grand-tour contender.

“For me the biggest revelation of this Giro is Lucas Hamilton,” White said. “The way he rode in his first grand tour was impressive. This kid’s got a lot of potential.”

Hamilton finished 25th overall at the Giro, just over an hour down on winner Richard Carapaz (Movistar). But it’s not Hamilton’s final placing that had White excited. White was following the action in Saturday’s final mountain stage across the Dolomites and came away impressed with Hamilton’s ability to have strong legs in the Giro’s punishing final mountain stages. The GC group split going up Passo Menghen, one of the most fearsome climbs in the Giro, and Hamilton single-handedly closed the gap to the leaders.

“I was right behind them. There was a group of eight about 40 seconds behind the leaders, and he drove that group across going over the top and onto the flats,” White said. “No one gave him a turn. It was just him.”

Hamilton finished the stage in 16th place, 1:16 behind winner Pello Bilbao (Astana), and just one spot behind Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). After the final time trial in Verona, Hamilton said his body felt the fatigue of his first three-week race.

“There’s one gear at the end of a grand tour and I was maxed out by the time I hit the first corner,” Hamilton said after his TT finish. “And that was only 100 meters in.”

Still, White said Hamilton surpassed expectations throughout the race. Not only was he part of a day’s winning breakaway in L’Aquila in stage 7 to finish fourth, but he constantly rode alongside GC captain Simon Yates deep into the mountains. And with Mitchelton-Scott likely to target grand tour victories with Yates, Hamilton could slot in as a valuable domestique in future efforts.

“We always had Lucas or [Mikel] Nieve with Simon, which allowed us to race aggressively,” White said. “He was right up there with the big leaders until the end. He’s class.”

Hamilton’s arrival comes as Australia is looking for a new generation of riders to lead in stage races and the grand tours. Australia won its first Tour de France with Cadel Evans in 2011, and Richie Porte has been consistently performing across stage races since then.

There’s a big of a hole behind the 34-year-old Porte, however, but White believes he has two riders who are poised to step up.

Along with Hamilton, White said 25-year-old Jack Haig is also destined for bigger things in the coming years. Haig was supposed to race the Giro with Mitchelton-Scott, but an injury after finishing fourth at Paris-Nice knocked him off the roster. There’s a chance Haig might race the Tour de France for the first time, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be at the Vuelta a España alongside Esteban Chaves.

White said Haig and Hamilton, both under contract through 2020, will be seeing more opportunities in the coming seasons.

Haig already has an impressive spring campaign, with seventh at Valencia and sixth at Ruta del Sol before fourth at Paris-Nice. Hamilton won the Coppi e Bartali stage race in March.

“We’ve had him on our development team for a couple of years. He’s not going anywhere,” White said of Hamilton. “If he’s riding a big tour as a leader with the engine he’s got, he has big potential. He was the youngest rider on our team, but he has a presence and character about him. He handles the pressure well.”

Hamilton has an impressive palmares in the U23 ranks in 2017, winning the Tour Alsace, fourth at the Tour de l’Avenir, and a stage win and second overall just nine seconds behind winner Pavel Sivakov at the “Baby Giro.” In 2018, he raced 65 days in his rookie WorldTour season.

Hamilton finished off the Giro on a high, riding to 16th in the final mountain stage to finish 25th overall.

“The third week of a grand is always a question mark,” White said. “We knew he’d be good for two week, but that third week is a bit of a mystery. To finish off the Giro the way he did is really positive. He’s not going anywhere. He’s a keeper.”