Lead pig: Hampsten in a retro Giro leader’s jersey. Photo: Marty Caivano.
Twenty-five years ago, a kid from North Dakota claimed the white jersey as best young rider in the Tour de France, helping Greg LeMond win the race for the first time. Andy Hampsten was already a major force on the pro circuit, racing for the legendary Team 7-11 and having won a stage in the Giro d’Italia the previous year as well as taking the Tour de Suisse title earlier in 1986. A relentless climber, Hampsten won the Tour de Suisse again the next year and won the Giro d’Italia, arguably a tougher race than the Tour de France, in 1988, spurred on by a now-mythic climb in a snowstorm over Gavia Pass. He took fourth overall in the Tour in 1992, winning a stage on the Alpe d’Huez.
Ever since he retired from racing, Hampsten, who lives in Boulder, has been drawn back to Italy. Under his Cinghiale Tours (cinghiale.com), he runs cycling trips across the country that offer gutty riding and epicurian enjoyment of food and wine. He and his wife Elaine also import olive oil from Tuscany (extravirginoilco.com) and Hampsten runs a custom bike business with his brother Steve, based out of Seattle. Hampsten Cycles will be making a retro custom bike in light of Andy’s 1986 achievement as well as a retro jersey (buy them at hampsten.com). Andy took the time to sit down and talk to us about nostalgia, bikes and how to remember to have fun with a sport that’s recently been embroiled in too much ugly controversy.
What are you going to do this year to celebrate your achievements from 25 years ago?
We will be running a tour in the end of August that goes through the Alps—we will repeat the Alpe d’Huez and some of the stages I did there. We don’t want to make too big a deal of the fact that I raced it. We just want to celebrate a great era of racing by hanging out and riding the great passes in France. Ed’s Note: You can still join this Alps & Gorges France trip (Aug. 27–Sept. 4) at cinghiale.com.
And you are going to be introducing a throw-back bike, too?
It’s going to be a nod to the pre-neon ’80s. We are making a commemorative jersey and a bike, we are working on a La Vie Claire, a Mondrian-style paint job. It’s fun to look at the whole history of cycling with our bikes since frames haven’t really changed much in 100 years… it’s just the roads are better now. It’s fun to give a nod to 25 years ago which is essentially the same geometry as we have now and just make fun race bikes that are light for uphills but stable for downhills. We’re not inventing anything new. We are simply trying to repeat what all these frame builders did ahead of us. There’s just not a big difference despite all the big bike company marketing.
What aspect of bike construction interests you most?
Today, most bikes are made to race in the Tour de France, so they are light, fast, delicate. But you could put different tires on the same bike that won the Tour 25 years ago and do the Paris-Roubaix if you wanted. Most of our clients are not racers in their 20s. They don’t have all day to ride their bikes. And when they do, they want to be comfortable. That’s usually not a race bike. So it comes down to tires. It’s funny to see how race bikes have skinny, light tires but you never see a sports car with skinny tires. It’s similar on a bike. Tire choices are everything. Your braking depends on tire contact with the road. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for people who are not trying to win the Tour to try to save weight on skinny tires. Why not go to a wide, light tire and go faster on the descents? I mean what skis win the Olympics? Is that what you want to have in Highlands Bowl on a powder day?
Do you think most people are too competitive when it comes to cycling these days?
It puzzles me a little bit why people who are just riding recreationally only look to the bike racing world for inspiration with clothes and bikes. I’m glad people are out riding having fun, I’m not going to say anything bad about anyone on a bike but I’m surprised people aren’t choosing more comfortable options. “Why am I sore after a three to four hour ride? Why am I in spandex all day long?”
What bike did you ride in 1986?
Carbon fiber Looks in the Tour. Carbon was fairly new then and the fiber forks helped a lot for the French roads. Back then, they were rough with a lot of pea gravel. Sometimes they were a bit sketchier than gravel roads around here. So they couldn’t be as stiff as racing bikes are today. Eddie Merckx was also a bike supplier in my racing days. His theory was: “Don’t select equipment that makes you gain seconds on an uphill and lose minutes on a downhill.” His bikes were a bit heavier. His theory was that if you were a climber or a sprinter, you needed most of all to conserve energy. His point was that if you sacrifice the ride quality, your muscles get jarred for six, seven hours. You are beat up. All anyone cares about is if you have what it takes to breakaway or take a climb at the end of the stage. Even if you go slow for the middle five hours, your muscles are tired later. Now, that theory is certainly also true for us working stiffs who don’t ride everyday. If you go ride for six hours your only complaint should be that you wanted to ride seven, not that your neck hurts.
Do you look back fondly on racing?
It was the most fun I have ever had. I’m sure if I read my old interviews, I would be groaning about my sacrifices just like the guys today groan, but there isn’t anything more fun that being a professional bike racer. Sure, there are sacrifices in racing, but you are screaming through corners coming downhill as fast as your tires will take you and there’s absolutely nothing better.
Are you excited about the coming USA Pro Cycling Pro Cycling Challenge [Ed’s Note: formerly named the Quiznos Pro Challenge]?
I like that they give a nod to the old Coors races. It’s not going to look like the Coors but I’m really looking forward to a good race here in Colorado. One of my favorite memories of the Coors races was the crowds. In Europe most race fans are old dudes blowing cigar smoke in your face. I know a lot of my European friends loved the Coors Race because … “there would be girls!” That’s one of the greatest contributions of the Coors Classic and Red Zinger, they brought a huge cross section of ages and sexes to the sport. If you look at the people riding to Lyons on a Saturday, they are 60 percent women. That hasn’t happened yet in Europe. I won’t be able to watch the whole Quiznos since I leave to run my trip in France in the middle of it but I’m going to watch as much as I can. I especially hope to see the stages in Crested Butte.