In this series, read:
Andy Hampsten -
An American Pioneer
Andy Hampsten -
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
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
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
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
Yeah, and thatís what I was shooting for. Thatís what I was really hoping to
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
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
[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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.