The young American cyclist Andy Hampsten will be a threat for the Tour de France in a few weeks time. Although he had doubts going into the race, Hampsten put his stamp on the Tour of Switzerland, seizing the victory in his second year as a professional.
After winning the Tour of Italy and Grand Caracol de Montana stage race last year, the Tour de Switzerland becomes the third major win of his career. Where does Hampsten’s win rank in U.S. cycling history? Only one other U.S. rider has ever won a major European stage race and that was LeMond, who won the Dauphine Libere in ’83. Certainly Hampsten has made one of the quickest ascents to the top ranks of pro cycling of any U.S. rider.
Geoff Drake spoke with Hampsten at his home in Switzerland in late June.
“I had a lot of doubts on how I would do,” he said. “In the Dauphine Libere I had a lot of problems on two stages. I lost a lot of time, although afterwards on a very hard stage I came back to get third. So I was really questioning my fitness. So at the start of the Tour of Switzerland, I wanted to do very well but I didn’t know if I was fit enough.”
“Going into the first time trial or the prologue I just went as hard as I could, and it worked out.”
Hampsten took the 8km prologue time trial in a time of 11:06, and wore the leader’s jersey for all but one stage.
Hampsten said LeMond worked for him throughout the race. “Greg would also help me verbally. If I was too ambitious chasing down a break on a climb that wasn’t necessary he would tell me. Or he would do it himself. So he was always working for me.”
“He was always welcome — if he got in a breakaway that had neither myself nor Millar in it, of course he was welcome the win the race himself. But he worked for me the whole race. That was really generous of him.”
Later, Hampsten said his anonymity in the peloton was a strength. “As far as the public is concerned I’m pretty much an unknown. The feel I had a really good race — it wasn’t like I snuck away with it. The feel that I was obviously the strongest rider, and for them it’s kind of fun to discover a new rider. They played big the fact that I am an American but I live in Switzerland.”
How will the win affect Hampsten’s role in the Tour, which starts July 4? “The last week is so severe that what we’ll do is have three of us sort of as co-leaders. If there is a breakaway and someone gets up the road, then we work for them. What we’ll try to do is keep all three of us real high so other teams have to worry about three riders on our time instead of just one.”
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Coming soon: Felix Magowan’s preview of the Tour favorites, a pre-Tour interview with Bernard Hinault, daily Tour de France race coverage.