One American who never contemplated canceling his trip to Europe this summer is Andy Hampsten, 24. Considered by most the second-best bicyclist in America, Hampsten is headed for his first try at the 24-day Tour de France, Europe’s premier event, which begins this week in Boulogne. The newest member of the prestigious La Vie Claire team, Hampsten will pedal the grueling 2,500-mile course through the Alps and Pyrenees beside such illustrious teammates as five-time winner Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, America’s superstar. LeMond is favored to win the event, but this year’s hilly course may help newcomer Hampsten. Says Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney, “LeMond has more power than Hampsten, but Andy has incredible mountain-climbing ability.”
He earned the nickname “Mountain Goat” training on canyon roads near his home in Boulder, Colo. Raised in Grand Forks, N.Dak., the son of two English professors at the university there, Hampsten started biking at 12 and entered his first competition four years later. He dropped out of college in his sophomore year to train full-time and enter races around the country, working at odd jobs to support himself. His prospects seemed bleak in 1984, when he failed to make the six-man Olympic team, but the disappointment only made him intensify his training. Last year he turned pro and became the first American to win a stage in the Giro D’Italia, finishing ahead of LeMond, 25, whom Hampsten has always looked up to “like a kid thinking about Pete Rose. The win was pretty amazing. Greg was so happy for me, and that meant a lot.” Later Hampsten took first place at the World Championship of Climbing, in the mountains of Colombia.
At his home in Yverdon, Switzerland, where he lives about four months of the year, Hampsten prepared for the Tour by tapering off slightly after several months of 700-mile training weeks. “Right now, I’m trying to relax,” he says, “and be confident that I’ve done everything I can.”