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Andy Hampsten - An American Pioneer
By Staff
Date: 8/19/2004
Andy Hampsten - An American Pioneer

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 Tour.

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 D’Huez.

Alpe d'Huez, 1992. Photo by Dave Lawrance.

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 open letter 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

Memorial Nencini
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

Schwabenbrau Cup
1 stage Tour of the Basque Country
Subida Urkiola
3 - Giro d'Italia

Subida Urkiola
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
Prix d'Orsenigo
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

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