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Roger Hammond makes Garmin-Cervelo the 800-pound gorilla in the 2011 classics

Roger Hammond is entering perhaps his final year of racing on a beefed up Garmin-Cervelo squad

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2010 Interbike, Roger Hammond
VeloNews spoke with Hammond at the 2010 Interbike show.

With more than 200 kilometers in his legs at this year’s Tour of Flanders, Roger Hammond (Cervelo TestTeam) was given the green light when Thor Hushovd suffered an apparent allergic reaction. The 36-year-old Hammond turned his mind from supporting his team leader to protecting the TestTeam’s reputation as a top classics unit.

“From a selfish point of view, it gave me a chance to shine,” said Hammond, who decided to return for a 14th season in 2011 after shredding the peloton in the crosswinds at the Tour of Qatar in January. “The hardest thing is suddenly changing your mentality from figuring out how to win the race for someone else to winning the race yourself.”

Hammond hung with the first chase group when Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) motored away. He came in seventh, his best career Flanders result. A week later, Hammond capped what he called his best classics season ever by outsprinting Boonen for fourth at Paris-Roubaix.

It’s been since 1999, when Patrick Lefevre’s Mapei super squad swept the Paris-Roubaix podium for the third time in four years, that a classics squad the size and strength of the new-look Garmin-Cervelo has taken to the cobbles. With Cervelo TestTeam folding at the end of 2010, the core of that program’s classics group, including Hammond, will move to the Boulder, Colorado-based ProTour outfit, joining Tyler Farrar, Johan Van Summeren and Martijn Maaskant.

Hammond will make the jump in 2011 with riders like Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler. The Englishman told VeloNews that he expected a smooth transition. “It feels like a continuation of the project, but adding more firepower to the team, which can’t be a bad thing,” he said.

Hushovd has been a fixture in the front group in the northern classics since his third-place finish at Milan-San Remo in 2005 and finished second to a relentless Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix this year. Haussler lodged second places at Milan-San Remo and Flanders in 2009, but is coming off a disappointing season that included a drunk driving arrest following his abandonment of the Tour of California.

They’ll reunite with Andreas Klier, Dan Lloyd and Brett Lancaster to bolster Garmin’s classics squad. The Garmin squad’s results have included a fourth at Paris-Roubaix in 2008 (Maaskant) and fifth at this year’s Tour of Flanders (Farrar).

“Even if you look at Quick Step, who build their entire team around the classics, when you get down to the lower numbers of the team, it’s ‘Ah, should we put him in, should we not?’” said Hammond. “Next year, our ninth, tenth, eleventh guy will be good enough to rightfully be leaders in other teams. There’s a bit of a joke going around right now that we’re all trying to stop the season early so that we can get training.”

Farrar, a Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana stage winner, took the top prize this season at the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen and Hammond expected the top American sprinter to integrate well into the Cervelo group.

Garmin-Cervelo potential northern classics riders:

Tyler Farrar
Roger Hammond
Heinrich Haussler
Thor Hushovd
Andrea Klier
Brett Lancaster
Daniel Lloyd
Martijn Maaskant
Johan Van Summeren

“What I see really happening, is Tyler joining the classics group and what he can offer to us is another strong rider. He was fifth at the Tour of Flanders this year and he knows how to ride these races,” said Hammond. “Over the years we’ve made a lot of mistakes and hopefully we can guide Tyler over and save him making those mistakes, which he would do without a strong classics group around him.”

“Hopefully it gives us more options to finish the job rather than two seconds, podium everywhere. One win would be nice and hopefully joining these two groups will produce the win,” he said. “On paper, we have a really strong team, fantastic equipment, good organization, so now it’s up to us.”

“At the end of the day, classics quite often come down to numbers,” said Hammond, who will finish his season in October with the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro and Paris-Bourges. “Look how strong we were as a team this year, but very quickly things can just turn on their hands. One crashed, one injured, one sick and you go from being a super strong classics team to being quite light.”

With at least five riders in very real contention for a win in the northern classics next year, Hammond likes the numbers — and his chances to be part of a monument-winning in what may be his last season.