Andy Hampsten Discusses the
1986 Tour de France
Oral History. www.dailypeloton.com (you ought to bookmark this site) has been very generous in letting us post their interview of Andy Hampsten conducted by Charlie Melk. You find this talk really gets under the skin of what was going on in La Vie Claire during those tense days of July, 1986.
Charlie Melk: Andy, so you rode with La Vie Claire in '86, probably one of the best cycling teams in the history of the sport. How did your season start out?
Andy Hampsten: Well, I went back to Europe and did the Dauphine Libere - did a pretty good Prologue, but during the third or fourth stage I made the break but then got dropped and was pretty demoralized. So when I started the Tour of Switzerland, hoping that I'd be able to get selected for the Tour de France, I wasn't really sure if they'd take me, because I wasn't really riding extraordinarily well. But I ended up winning the prologue, and also the general classification at that race. So, that got me into the Tour de France (we both laugh).
Charlie Melk: That was a pretty good guarantee, right?
Andy Hampsten: Yeah, and they always wanted me to ride, but it was a super good team, and, you know, they were going to take the fittest riders they had.
CM: Yeah, I remember the '86 La Vie Claire team - it was just phenomenal.
AH: Yeah, they were pretty much the best results from any Tour team that's ever been.
CM: What was your first Tour de France like?
AH: Ah, it was hard (laughter on both ends again, at the typical understatement). I was fourth in it overall, which was a great result for a first Tour. But I think sometimes that the only reason I did so well is that I had no idea how hard it would be, or what it would do to my body - what my body would have to go through. Otherwise, I might've freaked out (more laughter)! But it worked out pretty well.
CM: It must have been a great realization to know that your body could take the stress of a terribly difficult three week race, after finishing so high in the general classification.
AH: Yeah, and that's what I was shooting for. That's what I was really hoping to do.
CM: What stands out in your mind as most memorable from the '86 season?
AH: Ah, certainly the Tour de France. Helping Greg LeMond win, which was the whole team's objective all year. But, of course, Hinault changed his mind during the race and raced for himself. And I can understand that. Certainly winning six would've have been something extraordinary. But he had promised Greg that he would help him. He ended up just making a really good race out of it. It was really hard for Greg - it was hard for me and the other guys on the team, having that fratricide happen within our own team. But on the other hand, Hinault did destroy the entire field, and Greg did only have one guy to ride against - it just happened to be his teammate.
CM: Right, so it was as sharply divided within the team at the '86 Tour as it appeared from the outside?
AH: Yeah, it really was. It was funny - Steve Bauer and I were helping Greg, which, you know, was the original team plan. The two Swiss guys [Niki Ruttimann and Guido Winterberg] were really upset about everything - confused, and didn't want to take sides. Jean-Françoise Bernard was doing all he could to help Hinault. The two older French veterans, Charly Berard and Alain Vigneron - they weren't strong enough to take the race apart, but I seem to recall them groaning, and saying, "Oh my God I'm getting dropped already!" whenever Hinault talked to them - they were pretty smart (laughs). And then there was some other French kid on the team that was kind of in over his head. The situation was really bad.
Steve and I had to chase down Hinault going into St. Etienne, when he broke away with Roche, of all people, and that wasn't any fun. We had to do it, but, you know, it was horrible chasing down your own teammate, and especially one who's our hero. But it worked out pretty well. I thought it was really bad . . . I mean, there was good leadership by Paul Koechli, but it was beyond him what he could do.
And there was an interesting moment, where I got a flat in that last week. We were going along on the rolling hills and it was really, really fast, and I wasn't right at the front, so I didn't see the two Swiss guys. I only saw the French guys on my team going off the back, and I thought, "Well, the team car is pretty close - I'll be able to get back on, but I better not make any mistakes!" So, I get my wheel changed, and I'm chasing back up through the cars, and sure enough, there were Charly Berard and Alain Vigneron, the old veterans had dropped back to help me. They took me straight to the front - they did a really good job. I thanked them after the stage, you know, when I could thank them properly. I went and found them, and said, "Oh gosh, thanks guys . . . it's really bad, because we're racing against each other and I really appreciate you helping me, even though I know that, it seems that Hinault . . . I don't know if he's going to be mad at you guys." And they both just looked at me and said, "Are you crazy?! You're in fourth place! That's 80,000 French Francs!" (laughter on both ends) They had the prize money totally worked out! These guys were so smart - true pros." (laughter continues)
CM: So, the next year you ended up going back to 7-Eleven, right?
AH: Yeah, I just read the writing on the wall that year, and seeing how it would be focused on Jean Francoise Bernard. I decided to leave the team and go to 7-Eleven, which was kind of a big step. But I had a lot of faith. They were bringing in Mike Neel as the coach and I had a really good relationship with him. And, you know, I just knew that I would be really excited. It's not that I thought I learned everything I needed to in one season with La Vie Claire, but I felt confident that I would have everything I needed, and also a good environment, to race with them.
CM: Yeah, it wouldn't be as political . . .
AH: Right, it was a smaller team. We were scraping up, trying to get nine good riders to put in the Giro and the Tour. But it worked out really well. We didn't win year-long but we won a lot of races that were really important to us - races that were important to me too - so, it worked out well.
CM: So you stayed in that same team structure until you went to Banesto, right?
AH: Yeah, and I went to Banesto in '95. And then my final year I rode on Eddie B's US Postal team in '96.
Yeah, that was a good little conclusion to my career. It was nice to back on an American team - it was very similar to the atmosphere on 7-Eleven in '87. It was really nice to be working with young, mostly American riders who were eager, and I was trying to pass on whatever I could to my teammates then. It was definitely a small team. It was a completely different show from what I had been used to for a while.
CM: Shifting the focus a little bit, I just wanted to ask you what it was like riding so closely with some of the legends of the sport - starting out with Greg LeMond. What was it like riding with Greg, and what kind of stuff did you learn from him, directly or indirectly?
AH: He was a lot of fun. We only had one full year together. As a junior, we raced together some, but he was just head and shoulders above me and everyone else. It was more just that he was the fun leader on La Vie Claire. I mean, that should've been such a fun Tour de France, and there was so much intrigue, especially on the team, when Hinault started going for it on his own. But Greg, even when he's under full stress, can't not have fun, and want everyone else to have fun.
I remember in the Pyrenees - I think on the second day, where Hinault almost lost all of the five minutes he had gained the day before. Bernard Tapie, our sponsor, came in. And he was going to settle this big dispute - this politician, larger than life - blah blah blah (laughs). So, he comes in, and of course, he doesn't do anything! He just wants as much television exposure as he can get.
So, he comes down to dinner, and supposedly everything is supposed to be straightened out, and there's this huge tension at the dinner table, which is really the place for the team to get together - have fun and share stories. But if something's not right within the team it's a really tense time.
So, Tapie comes in, wearing two Izod shirts, collars up (laughs) - you know, making small talk. Obviously he's not going to take the situation in hand. And after a little bit of small talk, Greg can't stand it anymore - he has to break the silence. Now, previously, Bernard Tapie was saying to the team, and also publicly, that if Jean Francois Bernard, his protégé, won the White Jersey, he would give him his Porsche 911! So, you know, this was a topic that kept going around.
Well, that day I had done pretty well. I had helped Greg off the front to win the stage, and bonked near the end, but still gained some time on some the others. So, sure enough, I had the White Jersey at the end of the day! And Greg, just to break the ice, yells, "Hey, Tapie! - Now that Andy has the White Jersey, are you going to give him the Porsche?" You could just hear a pin drop in the room! (much laughter on both ends again) Steve and Greg and I just thought it was one of the funniest things we'd ever heard.
And that's just Greg. Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's no fun when everyone's bickering, but we'll have fun in the situation anyway.
CM: Oh, that's great! The flipside of that, probably, would be Hinault, then. What was it like riding with him?
AH: I learned a lot from Hinault. It was his last year. I guess I never told you what I learned from LeMond, and you know, it was fascinating riding with him and for him, but he was so strong that year that he just went whenever he wanted to (laughs)! So, tactically, there wasn't as much going on as with Hinault, who I learned a lot from - mostly in the spring, racing with him.
I remember the first race in Spain. He was second in the prologue, so we were protecting him. It was his last year, and he really didn't want to train so hard - he's getting older - you know, he's grumpier. So, the next day all the Spaniards are just flying - this must have been February, but their Vuelta is in April [the Vuelta only switched to September in recent years], so they're just flying, and we're trying to hang onto them. And I drift back in the pack. I know Hinault's not in front of me, so I drift back and find him, and I start bringing him up.
But since I don't want to totally kill myself, I just use the old technique that, since everyone is single-file, or maybe double-file - you know, I'm trying to get a little bit of a draft in the slight crosswind by riding pretty near the line of riders. It was hard, you know, I wasn't real fit, and Hinault just puts his hand on my hip - nicely - but just pushes me out to the center of the road - and I don't speak a lot of French, but he says, "You don't have to get me all the way to the front, but I don't want to mess with those guys. If you only take me for 100 meters, it's ok - but I want a full draft. I don't want to monkey with those guys."
And it was just great. I mean, he could have gotten to the front on his own, but he knew that I wanted to help him. And after that stage, I said, "Thanks, I really want to help you. You just tell me whatever it is." And he knew that I was sincere about that, so he said, "Ok, I will." And he did.
A couple days later he had a flat when we were in the mountains. There were probably only 20 riders left. I was there, but on the rivet, and I was almost able to pace him back up to the group. But I couldn't quite get him up there before we went down a really tricky descent. After a couple kilometers of this really tricky descent, I chickened out, and just waved him ahead of me, and said, "Hey, I can't do it." He said, "Oh man, just slow down! It's February - we're in Spain! You descend at whatever pace you're comfortable at and we'll get them on the flat."
Sure enough, I could see them - we were only 30 or 40 seconds back - and when we got back to a wider, flatter road, even though the Teka team was going really hard, I got him back up there. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, with him showing me how he wants to be helped, but more importantly, he would help others win races.
He helped Niki Ruttimann win the Tour du Midi-Pyrenees that year, and he was really instrumental in helping me win the Tour of Switzerland. I won the prologue, but then the next day I was silly. It was pouring rain and we were doing these circuits - it wasn't really hard, but you know, it was a long day. Well, I didn't want to put on a rain jacket over my shiny gold leader's jersey (we both laugh). So I start bonking on the last lap, and he comes by, asking, "How are you doing?" And I answer, "Ah, not so good." (laughs) He said, "Ok, you just talk to me."
You know, we were winding up for a sprint, it was bucketing down rain, and he would slide back with me on the uphills, and then on the flats he would sit up with his hands on the tops of the bars, bringing me past everyone to the front, sitting on the front, looking for me. I mean that's Bernard Hinault! At the time I was too tired to say a word. It was amazing. Someone could tell me a thousand times how to pace someone around, but having Hinault do it for me was just a completely different experience. It was fantastic.
Yeah, it was a real honor to have him work for me. And he actually did like it too. He just wanted to get fit, and I learned a lot. You can really get fit and have fun by helping a teammate win a race.