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Andy Hampsten Interview #2: Racing Stories
 
By Staff
Date: 8/25/2004
Andy Hampsten Interview #2: Racing Stories
 

In this series, read:
Andy Hampsten - An American Pioneer
Andy Hampsten - The Interview

By Charlie Melk

In the spring of 1985, 7-Eleven talked to Andy Hampsten at the Tour of Texas, after returning briefly to the United States from a successful early season campaign. Because of its early season success, the 7-Eleven team was able to secure a cosponsor - Hoonved, an Italian industrial dishwashing machine company. This allowed them the luxury of signing on some extra help for the mountains of the upcoming Giro d"Italia. Signing Hampsten to an initial one month contract, 7-Eleven would soon find out that they had made an excellent decision.

Andy went on to win the 20th stage of the Giro that year, to Gran Paridiso, as well as finishing his first Grand Tour in 20th position overall on general classification, doing his new team, and their new co-sponsor, proud. He returned to the United States, riding for the Levis-Raleigh team, and also rode an excellent Coors Classic, but returned to Europe later in the year to race for 7-Eleven again. According to Andy, "I was able to race for both teams, as long as they were in different countries - and I did pretty well." Later that same year, he would "do pretty well" in front of just the right people.

Hampstenís friend from junior days, Greg LeMond, was riding for the La Vie Claire team, and he told them that Andy was a rider to watch. According to a laughing Hampsten, an excited Greg LeMond told him, "Make sure you do something, because I told them you would!" That "something" turned out to be Andyís decisive victory at the Futa Pass Hill Climb, near Florence. And with that victory, La Vie Claire offered Andy a contract for the next year, which is where we pick up the interview from Part One.

In Part Two of this interview, Andy talks about paying his dues, getting results, and also discusses some legends of the sport, past and present, with his quiet and genuine sense of humor coming through time and again.


Courtesy Andy Hampsten.


Andy, so you rode with La Vie Claire in í86, probably one of the best cycling teams in the history of the sport. How did your season start out?

Well, I went back to Europe and did the Dauphine Libere - did a pretty good Prologue, but during the third or fourth stage I made the break but then got dropped and was pretty demoralized. So when I started the Tour of Switzerland, hoping that Iíd be able to get selected for the Tour de France, I wasnít really sure if theyíd take me, because I wasnít really riding extraordinarily well. But I ended up winning the prologue, and also the general classification at that race. So, that got me into the Tour de France (we both laugh).

That was a pretty good guarantee, right?

Yeah, and they always wanted me to ride, but it was a super good team, and, you know, they were going to take the fittest riders they had.

Yeah, I remember the í86 La Vie Claire team - it was just phenomenal.

Yeah, they were pretty much the best results from any Tour team thatís ever been.

I was just getting into cycling at the time, and I was totally in awe of La Vie Claire! It was just such a deep team. What was your first Tour de France like?

Ah, it was hard (laughter on both ends again, at the typical understatement). I was fourth in it overall, which was a great result for a first Tour. But I think sometimes that the only reason I did so well is that I had no idea how hard it would be, or what it would do to my body - what my body would have to go through. Otherwise, I mightíve freaked out (more laughter)! But it worked out pretty well.

It must have been a great realization to know that your body could take the stress of a terribly difficult three week race, after finishing so high in the general classification.

Yeah, and thatís what I was shooting for. Thatís what I was really hoping to do.

What stands out in your mind as most memorable from the í86 season?

Ah, certainly the Tour de France. Helping Greg LeMond win, which was the whole teamís objective all year. But, of course, Hinault changed his mind during the race and raced for himself. And I can understand that. Certainly winning six wouldíve have been something extraordinary. But he had promised Greg that he would help him. He ended up just making a really good race out of it. It was really hard for Greg - it was hard for me and the other guys on the team, having that fratricide happen within our own team. But on the other hand, Hinault did destroy the entire field, and Greg did only have one guy to ride against - it just happened to be his teammate.

Right, so it was as sharply divided within the team at the í86 Tour as it appeared from the outside?

Yeah, it really was. It was funny - Steve Bauer and I were helping Greg, which, you know, was the original team plan. The two Swiss guys [Niki Ruttimann and Guido Winterberg] were really upset about everything - confused, and didnít want to take sides. Jean-FranÁoise Bernard was doing all he could to help Hinault. The two older French veterans, Charly Berard and Alain Vigneron - they werenít strong enough to take the race apart, but I seem to recall them groaning, and saying, "Oh my God Iím getting dropped already!" whenever Hinault talked to them - they were pretty smart (laughs). And then there was some other French kid on the team that was kind of in over his head. The situation was really bad.

Steve and I had to chase down Hinault going into St. Etienne, when he broke away with Roche, of all people, and that wasnít any fun. We had to do it, but, you know, it was horrible chasing down your own teammate, and especially one whoís our hero. But it worked out pretty well. I thought it was really bad . . . I mean, there was good leadership by Paul Koechli, but it was beyond him what he could do.

And there was an interesting moment, where I got a flat in that last week. We were going along on the rolling hills and it was really, really fast, and I wasnít right at the front, so I didnít see the two Swiss guys. I only saw the French guys on my team going off the back, and I thought, "Well, the team car is pretty close - Iíll be able to get back on, but I better not make any mistakes!" So, I get my wheel changed, and Iím chasing back up through the cars, and sure enough, there were Charly Berard and Alain Vigneron, the old veterans had dropped back to help me. They took me straight to the front - they did a really good job. I thanked them after the stage, you know, when I could thank them properly. I went and found them, and said, "Oh gosh, thanks guys . . . itís really bad, because weíre racing against each other and I really appreciate you helping me, even though I know that, it seems that Hinault . . . I donít know if heís going to be mad at you guys." And they both just looked at me and said, "Are you crazy?! Youíre in fourth place! Thatís 80,000 French Francs!" (laughter on both ends) They had the prize money totally worked out! These guys were so smart - true pros." (laughter continues)

So, the next year you ended up going back to 7-Eleven, right?

Yeah, I just read the writing on the wall that year, and seeing how it would be focused on Jean Francoise Bernard. I decided to leave the team and go to 7-Eleven, which was kind of a big step. But I had a lot of faith. They were bringing in Mike Neel as the coach and I had a really good relationship with him. And, you know, I just knew that I would be really excited. Itís not that I thought I learned everything I needed to in one season with La Vie Claire, but I felt confident that I would have everything I needed, and also a good environment, to race with them.

Yeah, it wouldnít be as political . . .

Right, it was a smaller team. We were scraping up, trying to get nine good riders to put in the Giro and the Tour. But it worked out really well. We didnít win year-long but we won a lot of races that were really important to us - races that were important to me too - so, it worked out well.

So you stayed in that same team structure until you went to Banesto, right?

Yeah, and I went to Banesto in í95. And then my final year I rode on Eddie Bís US Postal team in í96.

I was really happy when you did that.

Yeah, that was a good little conclusion to my career. It was nice to back on an American team - it was very similar to the atmosphere on 7-Eleven in í87. It was really nice to be working with young, mostly American riders who were eager, and I was trying to pass on whatever I could to my teammates then. It was definitely a small team. It was a completely different show from what I had been used to for a while.

And, results-wise, I didnít have a great year on the bike. My daughter was born in the spring, and the team was really generous in letting me not race before that.

[At this point, Andyís daughter Emma breaks in and sings, "I was born in spriiing!" into the phone, to which Andy replies - "Yeah, Spring-Chicken" - laughter all around, once again.]

So, you know, my form was just horrible! And I was racing in Belgium - doing the races that I had been trying to avoid my whole career. But it worked out well, because we did the Teleflex Tour, which Tyler Hamilton took the lead in. And I sort of raced myself into fitness by helping to protect his lead. So, it worked out really well. And then I had a good Tour DuPont - ended up fourth - but I didnít do much after that. I had a different sensation in the legs - I guess thatís one way of putting it. So, I knew it was time to stop racing.

I wanted to ask you about Tyler Hamilton. A lot of people compare your results to Tylerís results. What do you think about that comparison?

Well, I think weíre similar. I mean, he focuses on the Tour like I did. He comes around in the early spring . . . you know, heís got some weapons I never did (laughs)! He was able to have that incredible fitness for that wonderful victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. You know, I would struggle my way into the top 20 in that race, and he really rode away with it. But, you know, heís a good, smart racer. He picks races like the Tour de Romandie in the spring. Theyíre great races to win, but really fantastic races to hone your form at.

His Tour riding is fantastic. He can certainly time trial at a level that I never could at the Tour. So, comparing our two careers, he certainly has some wonderful qualities that I didnít have, and heís making the most of it. Itís really nice to see.

Yeah, and it was great to see him win the Olympic Time Trial.

Yeah, that was just wonderful - just super.

And career-wise he was really intelligent too. I mean, I got to know him pretty well in our year together on US Postal, and, you know heís quiet - and people know just how ambitious he is now - but despite being quiet, he was very specific about what he was doing - very intelligent. You know, heís not young, but as a rider, I think heís pretty young. He didnít start too early. He had some good results as an amateur, but more importantly, he had some hard knocks, and he learned that he had to take care of himself in the sport. Heís very ambitious, but he wasnít too quick to leave US Postal. You know, he did, what, three years helping Lance win the Tour, and I think that was really smart. I think he really learned what he needed to before moving on from Postal.

Yeah, and then he wasnít afraid to move on.

Yeah, and move on twice, which must have been pretty hard, being on Bjarne Riisí team last year - obviously thatís one of the really strong up and coming teams.

Right, where everybody seems to get the best out of themselves.

Yeah, right - it was a great environment for him. But, you know, I asked him about moving to Phonak, and after talking to him, I certainly agree. Heís a really good leader, and he can put together a team around himself that believes in him, and thatís what it takes at the Tour.

He just strikes me as a remarkably thoughtful person.

Yeah, and fun to be around too. We had a lot of fun that year on Postal. It was really nice that he was winning races and doing so well when we were on US Postal together, but heís also just a fun guy to be around.

Shifting the focus a little bit, I just wanted to ask you what it was like riding so closely with some of the legends of the sport - starting out with Greg LeMond. What was it like riding with Greg, and what kind of stuff did you learn from him, directly or indirectly?

He was a lot of fun. We only had one full year together. As a junior, we raced together some, but he was just head and shoulders above me and everyone else. It was more just that he was the fun leader on La Vie Claire. I mean, that shouldíve been such a fun Tour de France, and there was so much intrigue, especially on the team, when Hinault started going for it on his own. But Greg, even when heís under full stress, canít not have fun, and want everyone else to have fun.

I remember in the Pyrenees - I think on the second day, where Hinault almost lost all of the five minutes he had gained the day before. Bernard Tapie, our sponsor, came in. And he was going to settle this big dispute - this politician, larger than life - blah blah blah (laughs). So, he comes in, and of course, he doesnít do anything! He just wants as much television exposure as he can get.

So, he comes down to dinner, and supposedly everything is supposed to be straightened out, and thereís this huge tension at the dinner table, which is really the place for the team to get together - have fun and share stories. But if somethingís not right within the team itís a really tense time.

So, Tapie comes in, wearing two Izod shirts, collars up (laughs) - you know, making small talk. Obviously heís not going to take the situation in hand. And after a little bit of small talk, Greg canít stand it anymore - he has to break the silence. Now, previously, Bernard Tapie was saying to the team, and also publicly, that if Jean Francois Bernard, his protťgť, won the White Jersey, he would give him his Porsche 911! So, you know, this was a topic that kept going around.

Well, that day I had done pretty well. I had helped Greg off the front to win the stage, and bonked near the end, but still gained some time on some the others. So, sure enough, I had the White Jersey at the end of the day! And Greg, just to break the ice, yells, "Hey, Tapie! - Now that Andy has the White Jersey, are you going to give him the Porsche?" You could just hear a pin drop in the room! (much laughter on both ends again) Steve and Greg and I just thought it was one of the funniest things weíd ever heard.

And thatís just Greg. Yes, itís hard. Yes, itís no fun when everyoneís bickering, but weíll have fun in the situation anyway.

Oh, thatís great! The flipside of that, probably, would be Hinault, then. What was it like riding with him?

I learned a lot from Hinault. It was his last year. I guess I never told you what I learned from LeMond, and you know, it was fascinating riding with him and for him, but he was so strong that year that he just went whenever he wanted to (laughs)! So, tactically, there wasnít as much going on as with Hinault, who I learned a lot from - mostly in the spring, racing with him.

I remember the first race in Spain. He was second in the prologue, so we were protecting him. It was his last year, and he really didnít want to train so hard - heís getting older - you know, heís grumpier. So, the next day all the Spaniards are just flying - this must have been February, but their Vuelta is in April [the Vuelta only switched to September in recent years], so theyíre just flying, and weíre trying to hang onto them. And I drift back in the pack. I know Hinaultís not in front of me, so I drift back and find him, and I start bringing him up.

But since I donít want to totally kill myself, I just use the old technique that, since everyone is single-file, or maybe double-file - you know, Iím trying to get a little bit of a draft in the slight crosswind by riding pretty near the line of riders. It was hard, you know, I wasnít real fit, and Hinault just puts his hand on my hip - nicely - but just pushes me out to the center of the road - and I donít speak a lot of French, but he says, "You donít have to get me all the way to the front, but I donít want to mess with those guys. If you only take me for 100 meters, itís ok - but I want a full draft. I donít want to monkey with those guys."

And it was just great. I mean, he could have gotten to the front on his own, but he knew that I wanted to help him. And after that stage, I said, "Thanks, I really want to help you. You just tell me whatever it is." And he knew that I was sincere about that, so he said, "Ok, I will." And he did.

A couple days later he had a flat when we were in the mountains. There were probably only 20 riders left. I was there, but on the rivet, and I was almost able to pace him back up to the group. But I couldnít quite get him up there before we went down a really tricky descent. After a couple kilometers of this really tricky descent, I chickened out, and just waved him ahead of me, and said, "Hey, I canít do it." He said, "Oh man, just slow down! Itís February - weíre in Spain! You descend at whatever pace youíre comfortable at and weíll get them on the flat."

Sure enough, I could see them - we were only 30 or 40 seconds back - and when we got back to a wider, flatter road, even though the Teka team was going really hard, I got him back up there. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, with him showing me how he wants to be helped, but more importantly, he would help others win races.

He helped Niki Ruttimann win the Tour du Midi-Pyrenees that year, and he was really instrumental in helping me win the Tour of Switzerland. I won the prologue, but then the next day I was silly. It was pouring rain and we were doing these circuits - it wasnít really hard, but you know, it was a long day. Well, I didnít want to put on a rain jacket over my shiny gold leaderís jersey (we both laugh). So I start bonking on the last lap, and he comes by, asking, "How are you doing?" And I answer, "Ah, not so good." (laughs) He said, "Ok, you just talk to me."

You know, we were winding up for a sprint, it was bucketing down rain, and he would slide back with me on the uphills, and then on the flats he would sit up with his hands on the tops of the bars, bringing me past everyone to the front, sitting on the front, looking for me. I mean thatís Bernard Hinault! At the time I was too tired to say a word. It was amazing. Someone could tell me a thousand times how to pace someone around, but having Hinault do it for me was just a completely different experience. It was fantastic.

You donít forget lessons like that.

Yeah, it was a real honor to have him work for me. And he actually did like it too. He just wanted to get fit, and I learned a lot. You can really get fit and have fun by helping a teammate win a race.

Right. Now what about Miguel Indurain? Were you able to ride with him much while you were with Banesto?

I wasnít actually able to do the Tour with him. That year, I didnít get to ride with him a whole lot. You know, in the early season he was low enough down on his fitness where he wasnít really going for it, which I thought was going to be cool because then the team would work for each other - weíd work for anyone who was fit. But actually, they were extremely unfocused if Indurain wasnít firing.

I remember one race in Pamplona where Santiago Blanco was going to be our team leader, and he got a flat, so Indurain stopped - we all did - to pace him back up. And Indurain just had a blast pulling very fast to get him back up. But, no, I didnít get to race with him very much, and the team tactics were nonexistent if Indurain wasnít at a race. It was sort of an uninteresting year.

What about riding with a young Lance Armstrong at Motorola? What was that like?

It was interesting. He was the new kid on a pretty well-established team that first year. He was an amateur the first year, but then obviously by í93 he was doing very well. He won a bunch of races here in America, and then he came over and won a stage of the Tour, and then the Worldís - things happened very quickly for him.

And he had great mentors - Steve Bauer, Sean Yates, and Phil Anderson - those three, especially, were the ones that Lance picked out to really show him the ropes. But he wasnít a really quick learner in one sense. Weíd tell him, "Hey, donít attack in the feed, I used to do it." (laughs) And, you know, that day heíd attack in the feed (more laughter) just because he was told not to! But when he learned a lesson, heíd only have to learn it once.

He didnít like to be told what not to do. Heíd listen to the guys, and take other peopleís experiences, but if you told him something directly, that wasnít proof enough for him. He would often try it anyway. But like I said, heíd learn lessons the first time around. And tactically, he just had, still has, an amazing killer instinct that works very, very well in bike racing.

Well, thanks a lot, Andy.

Sure, Charlie, no problem.

Itís been great talking to you and good luck with everything.

All right, thank you - I appreciate it.


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