Dakota Datebook

Andy Hampsten, Cyclist

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

 

Today is the birthday of cycling great, Andy Hampsten, who was born in 1962. Andy grew up in Grand Forks, where his parents taught English at UND. They gave him his first road bike when he turned 12, and he was smitten for life.

Hampsten soon realized that U.S. television paid no attention to cycling. The only place he could learn about it was at the library, where he found articles in foreign newspapers. In 1977, he started competing and was soon discovered by the American Cycling Federation. His first race as a junior was in Milwaukee in 1979, which he won. He lists that victory as one of his two favorite career memories.

In 1985, Andy turned pro, signing his first contract with the newly founded American team, 7-Eleven. When they went to the Tour de Italia that year, the Europeans didn’t take them seriously. But Andy and his team silenced them with wins in 2 stages of the race, one of which was a solo victory by Andy at a mountaintop finish.

The following year, Andy won the Tour de Suisse; he was the first American to ever do it. His next major race took place that same year… the Tour de France. He walked away with the Best Rookie Jersey and shared a 1st place team award for his role in helping teammate Greg LeMond win the race. The following year, Andy won the Tour of Switzerland once more – the only American to ever win it twice.

Hampsten’s career highlight came in 1988 during the Tour de Italia “on a day,” as one cyclist put it, “when strong men cry.” During a legendary stage over the Passo de Gavia in the Dolomite Mountains, Hampsten got caught in a blizzard. Later, he said, “I gave up on asking God for any help; I was blessed already having the privilege of racing. Instead, I speculated on what I would bargain for if the devil showed up.”

Followed by a long line of cars that were also struggling to make it through the mountain pass, Andy wouldn’t give up. With bare legs and arms, he pushed on in what has now become one of the most legendary cycling stages of all time. Overcoming all odds, Hampsten persevered and took home the coveted prize, the Maglia Rosa. Although he was the first cyclist from the North American continent to ever win the Tour of Italy, U.S. television still wasn’t interested.

Hampsten’s next goal was to go back and win the Tour de France. By then, he had twice placed in the top-four. Now, he wanted a lead jersey – for you non-cyclists, lead jersey means first place.
Hampsten’s great strength was climbing, but in time trials, he didn’t do as well, so he tried to improve this weakness by changing his training-program. Unfortunately, the change caused him to lose some of his climbing ability, and the Tour de France victory never materialized. The disappointment was partially overcome when he retrained himself for climbing and won many other victories before finally retiring in 1996.

When asked by an interviewer what his worst moment in cycling was, Andy replied, “8 years old and hitting that parked car in front of my house at 5 mph that I KNEW was there.”

Now that’s a true champion. Happy birthday, Andy.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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