Courtesy Andy Hampsten.
By Charlie Melk
The ‘80’s was the decade when the United States suddenly found itself in the
hunt for major victories in Europe. Several intrepid individuals, such as
Jonathan Boyer, Mike Neel, and George Mount had made an impression in the
European peloton by the late ‘70’s, but it wasn’t until a new group of young and
promising professionals hit the scene in the early to mid ‘80’s that people
started taking this collection of young upstarts seriously. And as is always the
case in situations where the underdog is present in such a difficult sport as
cycling, respect must be earned the hard way - with results.
Before Lance Armstrong - before Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer, Bobby Julich,
George Hincapie, Fred Rodriquez, Kevin Livingston, and Jonathan Vaughters, among
other notable talents, there was a group of American cyclists that would prove
instrumental in paving the way for today’s stars.
Greg LeMond, winner of the World Professional Road Race Championship in 1983
as well as the Super Prestige Pernod Trophy (the equivalent of today’s World
Cup) that same year, certainly made an early and distinctive mark. As we all
know now, LeMond went on to win three Tours de France (1986, 1989, and 1990),
another World Championship title (1989), and numerous other high profile events,
despite the fact that his career was perilously divided by a terrible hunting
accident that left him 20 minutes away from bleeding to death in 1987. LeMond’s
results speak for themselves, and no one would argue that he is undoubtedly the
father of the modern era of bike racing in the United States.
But there were others too, not so far removed from LeMond’s eminent stature.
1985 marked the first year that an American based team would tackle Europe en
masse, in the form of Jim Ochowicz’s 7-Eleven team - a team comprised entirely
of North American neo-pros like Davis Phinney, Eric Heiden, Alex Stieda, and a
younger, leaner, and perhaps less gesticulation-prone version of Bob Roll - and
from the very start they bucked the odds and made their presence known.
At their debut grand tour, the 1985 Giro d’Italia, 7-Eleven came away with
two stage wins - a feat that was astonishing given their lack of international
experience at the highest level of the sport - Ron Kiefel took the stage to
Perugia, while another American, riding his first professional race in Europe,
won the stage to Gran Paradisio. We’d be hearing a lot more from him in the
years to come. His name was Andy Hampsten.
Andy had been quietly making a name for himself for several years. In the
junior ranks, he joined the National Team in 1979, where he went on to win the
bronze medal at the Junior World Championships 70 km TTT in Buenos Aires,
Argentina, along with Greg LeMond (who also took the gold medal in the road race
and the silver medal in the individual pursuit), Mark Frise, and Jeff Bradley.
1980 saw him win the National Junior Individual Time Trial Championship title
and again medal in the Junior Worlds TTT, this time moving up to silver. He
continued to ride on the National team through 1984, where he was part of the
team that won the Senior National TTT Championship.
1985 saw him riding professionally for the first time with the Levis-Raleigh
squad in the United States, where his reputation as a climber of rare ability
was growing steadily. 7-Eleven also picked him up in 1985 for help in the
mountains of the Giro d’Italia, however, and it is at this point where the rider
who originally hailed from Grand Forks, North Dakota started to show the cycling
world what he was truly made of.
Andy’s stage win at the 1985 Giro announced his arrival on the scene. Later
that same year, he would go on to win the King of the Mountains Classification
and take 2nd place overall at the Coors Classic - North America’s premier stage
race of the time.
In 1986, Andy switched teams and rode for the powerful La Vie Claire squad of
Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond. This was a break-out season for Andy, as he not
only went on to win the Tour de Suisse overall, along with a stage, but also won
the Maillot Blanc in the Tour de France en route to an excellent 4th place
overall finish in his debut Tour, along with proving himself an indispensable
lieutenant to Greg LeMond in the mountains in LeMond’s effort to win his first
In 1987, Andy switched back to 7-Eleven, having earned the status of team
leader, where he promptly won the Tour de Suisse for a second time, the only
American to ever have won this event more than once to this day. Capping off a
fantastic season, he went on to win two stages of the Coors Classic.
But 1988 was the landmark season. Andy started off the year with an excellent
stage win at Paris-Nice; a good indicator of what was to come in the Giro
d’Italia later that spring, where he was considered a dark horse favorite for a
strong showing. It was at this Giro that Andy and Erik Breukink, of the powerful
Panasonic squad, battled for overall honors. This well known clash culminated on
the Gavia Pass in a blizzard. Breukink went on to win the epic stage, but in the
process both of them had effectively buried the rest of the competition. Along
with his overall victory in the Giro that year, and he is still the only
American rider to have won the Giro, he also won the King of the Mountains
classification and two stages - one of which, impressively enough, was an ITT.
Later that summer, as a confirmation of his Giro ride, Andy also won a stage of
the Coors Classic and took 2nd overall.
Still with 7-Eleven in 1989, he went on to take 3rd overall in the Giro, as
well as several prestigious wins - the Schwabenbrau Cup, Subida a Urkiola, and a
stage of the Tour du Pays-Basque.
Ever consistent, 1990 saw Andy finish 11th overall at the Tour de France. For
the second year running, he won Subida a Urkiola, as well as taking a stage of
the Tour de Suisse en route to a 3rd place overall. And Stateside, he also won a
stage of the Tour de Trump.
In 1991, 7-Eleven bowed out as the main sponsor of Jim Ochowicz’s team and
Motorola took over. However, this didn’t seem to have much of an effect on Andy,
as he had another solid year, taking 3rd overall in the Tour de Suisse plus the
King of the Mountains Classification, 5th overall at Paris-Nice, and 8th overall
at the Tour de France.
1992 was a brilliant season, where Andy won the Tour de Romandie overall, as
well as a stage win. He also showed remarkable durability and consistency in the
grand tours, finishing 5th overall in the Giro d’Italia and 4th overall in the
Tour de France, along with winning the crown jewel of climbing stages - Alpe
Alpe d'Huez, 1992. Photo by
1993 saw him win the Tour of Galicia, along with a stage of Semaine Catalane.
He also had a string of other impressive results, taking 2nd in the semi-classic
Paris-Camembert, 3rd overall in the Tour de Romandie, 4th in Subida a Urkiola,
and 8th overall at the Tour de France.
1994, Andy’s final year with Motorola, was similar to 1993. He took 3rd
overall in Semaine Catalane, 3rd overall in the Tour de Romandie, and 5th
overall in Veenendaal-Veenendaal.
The 1995 season brought big changes to Hampsten’s career, as he decided to
move from Motorola to Banesto - the dominant team of five time Tour de France
winner Miguel Indurain, where Andy placed 20th in the World Road Championship
and 6th overall at the Colorado Cyclist Classic.
And 1996 saw Andy bring his career home to the United States, riding for the
fledgling U.S. Postal Service team, very similar to his circumstances at
7-Eleven in 1985. He had come full circle, and at the end of the 1996 season, at
age 34, he retired.
In a professional career that spanned 12 seasons and included so many
important victories and placings, where his achievements literally rewrote the
annals of American cycling history on a yearly basis, Andy Hampsten deserves
what those "in the know" have known all along - his place as one of the best
American cyclists ever is assured. Quietly confident, and definitely not into
self aggrandizement in the least, he would probably shrug off such an assertion
with a smile however.
Courtesy Andy Hampsten.
After his retirement from competition, he started a company called
Hampsten Cycles - a company that specializes in high end road
bikes, which he runs with his brother Steve. He also moved to Tuscany, where he
started a bike touring company called
Cinghiale Cycling Tours, Inc.,
where the emphasis is on discovering the genuine culture of Tuscany. Sounds good
to me! These days, he splits his time between Italy and the United States.
Please look forward to Part Two, to our conversation with Andy Hampsten about his
to the cycling community, where we discuss the problem of doping in cycling, and some possible ways to
confront this crisis.
Andy Hampsten Selected Palmares
1 stage GP Caracol
1 stage Giro d'Italia
KOM Coors Classic
2 - Coors Classic
Tour de Suisse plus Prologue
White Jersey Tour de France
4 - Tour de France
2 stages Coors Classic
Tour of Switzerland
Giro d'Italia plus two stages plus KOM
1 stage Paris-Nice
1 stage Coors Classic
2 - Coors Classic
1 stage Tour of the Basque Country
3 - Giro d'Italia
1 stage Tour of Switzerland
1 stage Tour de Trump
3 - Tour of Switzerland
5 - Paris-Nice
11 - Tour de France
3 - Tour de Suisse plus KOM
5 - Paris Nice
8 - Tour de France
Tour of Romandie plus 1 stage
1 stage Tour de France
4 - Tour de France
5 - Giro d'Italia
Vuelta a Galicia + 1 stage
1 stage Semaine Catalane
2 - Paris-Camembert
3 - Tour de Romandie
4 - Subida a Urkiola
8 - Tour de France
3 - Semaine Catalane
4 - Tour de Romandie
5 - Veenendaal-Veenendaal