Ex-pro cyclist Andy Hampsten earned fame and fortune for his epic ride over the snowy Passo di Gavia and eventual overall win in the 1988 Giro d’Italia. Yet in spite of its now legendary status, that performance is far from Hampsten’s only big achievement. He also conquered consecutive runnings of the Tour de Suisse in ’86 and ’87, finished fourth in the Tour de France twice, and won a Tour stage atop Alpe d’Huez before finally retiring from the sport in 1996.
Hampsten’s racing career may be over a decade behind him but you'd hardly guess by looking at him. Now in his mid-40s, he is still barely 4kg (9lb) over his old 60kg (132lb) racing weight thanks to plenty of saddle time exploring the mountains around his Boulder, Colorado home base.
These days, Hampsten’s primary road rig is a Moots-built Hampsten Cycles Strada Bianca Ti that, ironically, is nearly perfectly suited for the type of steep mountainous dirt roads that he had to cross on that fateful day over the Gavia in 1988.
"If I had one bike, this would be it," he said. "I ride this 90 percent of the time."
The cleanly welded titanium frame and carbon Wound Up fork are designed around the larger 28-33mm tyres that he prefers for their ability to handle smooth pavement or cobbles as well as their awesome cornering traits. Built-in S&S couplers on this ‘Travelissimo’ variant add obvious weight but they also allow for easy transport when it comes time to fly.
As a naturally gifted climber, Hampsten made do with the somewhat limited gear ratios available to him back in the day but now admits an affinity for today’s new compact offerings.
"[Back then] I used 39/53 [up front]," he said. "For a mountain stage I would do 23, 21, 19, 17 etc. or 25, 23, 21, 19, 17. If there was something nuts in Italy like the Tre Cime Lavaredo or the Mortirolo then I would go to a 28. I never used even-numbered climbing cogs other than the 28. Never. Not that I am superstitious; I just hate how every time I looked at even numbers for climbing cogs my palms would get sweaty. Odd only.
"I can only really get excited about my bikes now if they have compact cranks. Not having super climbing gears on my bikes limits my rides to boring terrain. Compact gearing for racers is for silly steep climbs, although the 50-11 would have worked for a top gear for me."
Hampsten’s current titanium creation bears little physical resemblance to the old John Slawta-built (of Land Shark fame) steel frame depicted in that famous Gavia poster, but he insists there are still strong similarities between then and now.
"Basically the same thing: neutral handling where if I lean a little bit, it goes the way I want to," he said. "I don't like criterium bikes or quick handling bikes that steer quicker. Sometimes racers want that; it’s some old myth that criteriums are faster if your bike oversteers or whatever they do. In coming with that, we get low bottom brackets: European racer-bike bottom brackets. With that neutral handling, it’s not rocket science. It’s pretty much bikes like they've been made for 80 years or so."
While the general personality of his bike apparently haven't changed much, the position certainly has. According to Hampsten, "In '88 I had a crazy high seat position, nearly 2cm higher than now. It worked then and feels all wrong now. I used to be longer on the bike, too. I shortened my top tube length by 2cm when I stopped racing, and raised my bars up at least 2cm."
Higher and shorter position notwithstanding, Hampsten is still as graceful on the bike as ever and impressively fit as evidenced by our leisurely (by his standards, that is) jaunt up to the old mining town of Gold Hill, roughly 900m (3,000ft) above Boulder at an elevation of 2530m (8,300ft). Life is easier for Hampsten these days but he still looks back at his racing career fondly.
"Bike racing was the most fun I've ever had," he said. "I have a hard time reading interviews for racers that grumble too much about how it is, that no one understands... it’s a blast. I had a blast. But I'm having a super, super good time now. I'm pretty happy not being any busier than I am; I'm as busy as I want to be. Life is awesome."
As it should be, Andy, as it should be.