5 Reasons Why He’s Andy Hampsten And You’re Not

Words || Gary J Boulanger

Born in Ohio and raised in North Dakota, Shiras Andrew Hampsten—named after his Scottish grandfather Shiras Morris—came to cycling rather circuitously. Like most good American kids raised in the 1970s, Hampsten mowed lawns to raise money to buy his first 10-speed bike. He learned drafting from some older local riders, but didn’t start racing until he was 15. His parents—both teachers—took the family to England, where Hampsten and his older brother Steve would train and race with the Cambridge Town and County Cycling Club in weekly time trials and criteriums. It wasn’t until he was 16 and started racing at the national level that Hampsten realized how good he was on the bike.

By 23, young Hampsten was racing for the Levi’s-Raleigh domestic team, and got an invitation to race the 1985 Giro d’Italia for the mighty Team 7-Eleven, led by current BMC Racing director Jim Ochowicz. Hampsten signed a three-week contract, and the skinny buck-toothed kid nicknamed Ernie slayed the giants of the road, including Bernard Hinault, Francesco Moser and Greg LeMond (who would finish in that order by race’s end in Merano), winning the 58 kilometer Stage 20…in a one-piece Lycra skinsuit.

“My coach, Mike Neel, just picked a corner for me to attack about one kilometer into the climb,” Hampsten said in a 2009 interview. “It was fairly steep, 10 percent or so, a big wide road. He told me the other racers knew I was doing well because I was in the first group on all the climbs, and I needed a bit more surprise on everyone. I wasn’t high on the general classification, so I wasn’t a threat to the top riders. The team led me out to that one point, and I was wearing a one piece, and a lot of the other pros were teasing me, being a dumb, amateur American, because of course, ‘that’s never done on a road stage’. And we kicked their ass. It was pretty fun…”

1. Hampsten worked in several bike shops before he started racing, and while he was a junior. He began by sweeping floors, then graduated to assembling bikes out of the box. After he started doing repairs, Hampsten became head mechanic at age 17. He worked at Nomad in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and after moving to Madison, Wisconsin, he worked and raced for the Yellow Jersey. Heading west, Hampsten filled in at the Bike Peddler in Santa Rosa for former racer and current team manager for BMC Racing, Gavin Chilcott.

2. Impressing the pants off both LeMond and Hinault with his `85 Giro victory (with a homemade 8-speed cogset built by Levi’s-Raleigh mechanic Calvin Jones, a first in the peloton by several years), Hampsten joins their La Vie Claire team for the `86 season, and proceeds to finish fourth in his Tour de France debut, taking the best young rider’s white jersey. Caught in the middle of LeMond’s epic battle for yellow against his teammate Hinault, Hampsten remains on good terms with both men, who stoically provided wonderful drama to the world’s largest sporting spectacle, set to John Tesh’s narrative and music soundtrack for CBS Sports. {We highly recommend Richard Moore’s “Slaying the Badger” for deep insight into that race ~ editor}

3. Taking his climbing prowess to its heights, Hampsten wins the general classification of the 1988 Giro d’Italia for Team 7-Eleven on a custom Land Shark steel bicycle, despite the Huffy sponsorship. At the time, Ben Serotta built most of the “Huffy” bikes, but after Hampsten’s frame broke at Fleche-Wallonne, he asked Land Shark’s John Slawta build him a new one. Napkin drawings indicate Hampsten’s custom bike was built with parallel 56.5cm top and seat tubes, a 74-degree seat tube angle, a 73.5-degree head tube angle, and only 35mm of fork rake, resulting in an unorthodox 6.42cm of trail, approximately a full centimeter more than is used in today’s racing bikes. As a result, Hampsten was able to adroitly handle the epic Gavia Pass stage 14 to Bormio, finishing second to Erik Breukink, when he took the leader’s pink jersey from Franco Chioccioli.

According to legend, Breukink was on pace to destroy everyone in the final time trial until he crashed on an oil slick just before the finish; it cost him two minutes and the Giro; Urs Zimmerman, hot on Hampsten’s tail in third, crashed on the same oil slick. Mike Neel heard about it just in time to tell Hampsten to slow down to a stop. Hampsten said he still barely made the corner, it was that slicked with oil. Hampsten lost 20 seconds to the Dutchman in the final time trial stage but won overall by 1:43. Zimmerman was third at 2:45, proving that Lady Luck waves her wand at will sometimes.

Hampsten’s 7-Eleven teammate Bob Roll makes a new friend at 6:42 in this video clip of the Gavia Pass:

4. Racing for Team Motorola, Hampsten won the 186 kilometer stage 14 of the 1992 Tour de France from Sestriere to the top of Alpe d’Huez. Hampsten famously used a downtube shifter for his front derailleur to save weight, while using a Shimano STI Dura-Ace shift/brake lever for his rear 8-speed cassette. July 19, 1992 was a bittersweet day for American cycling fans, as Greg LeMond abandoned his first Tour on the lower slopes of the mountain. Hampsten narrowly missed making the podium in Paris, finishing fourth overall behind Gianni Bugno.

5. Hampsten was teammates with several riders who won multiple grand tours during their careers, among them Bernard Hinault (La Vie Claire: 5 Tours de France, 5 Giros d’Italia, 2 Vuelta a Españas), Miguel Indurain (Banesto: 5 Tours de France, 2 Giros d’Italia), Greg LeMond (La Vie Claire: 3 Tours de France), and Lance Armstrong (Motorola: 7 Tours de France, since revoked).