LONDON (Reuters) - Cycling’s Hammer Series will roll into Hong Kong in October with one of the men behind the novel all-action format predicting it could become the two-wheeled version of Twenty20 cricket.
The three-day, multi-discipline team event was successfully tested in the Netherlands last year, where Team Sky claimed a thrilling one-second victory and three million watched the competition in Limburg online.
Limburg will host another Hammer event in June as part of a series that will start in Stavanger, Norway the previous month and culminate around the streets of Hong Kong.
More rounds could be added in 2019.
The Hammer Series, contested by five-rider teams, is broken down into a climbing day, a sprint day and concludes in a pursuit in which the leading team from the first two days sets off first.
Last year, Team Sky held off Sunweb in a thrilling chase.
While it may concern traditionalists brought up on Grand Tours and one-day classics, Graham Bartlett, CEO of Hammers co-founders Velon, believes the Hammer format offers a bit of everything and can engage a new breed of cycle fans.
“There is plenty of space for all different flavours,” Bartlett told Reuters at his London office. “We want to be very clear... we are not trying to replace anybody’s position here, we are trying to add something new to the mix.
“Hammer was designed specifically to do something different but also to respect the three key skill sets in the sport, sprinting, climbing and time-trialling.
“We wanted to emphasise the team element because cycling is a team event at heart, and we want to celebrate that.”
Marketing and media company Velon work closely with World Tour teams, race organisers and broadcasters, and are best-known for providing live rider data and on-board video.
The Hammer Series, according to Bartlett, is another way of making cycling more digestible to a wider audience.
Last year’s Limburg event attracted a cumulative 3.2 million viewers on social media sites Facebook and YouTube.
“The key thing was to make it an authentic event with impactful racing that really matters,” Bartlett said.
“We were blown away by how seriously the teams took it last year. It was full gas every day for three days.
“Think of the passion of Twenty20 cricket, IPL and Ryder Cup, and the engagement the fans have with those events. The important thing was that teams and riders liked it.”
Team Sky will be joined in the 2018 series by world champion Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team while Team Sunweb, second last year, are fully committed to the races.
The exact nature of the Hong Kong finale is yet to be revealed but Bartlett promised a “big finish” to the season.
UAE Team Emirates team manager Carlo Sarroni said the Hammer race could help establish Hong Kong on the UCI cycling map.
“Hong Kong has everything to become an important appointment in the world cycling calendar and the Hammer Series leg will be the best way to make a huge step towards this goal,” he said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O'Brien