The Hardmen: Adam Hansen

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The 2017 Giro d’Italia is the seventeenth consecutive Grand Tour he’s finished. Plenty of riders are popular, few earn the cult following of Adam Hansen

Photographs: Offside / IPP / L'Equipe
Giro 2017 Time Trial Adam Hansen

Seventeen Grand Tours and counting, Adam Hansen can do it all. Want him in the break? He can do that. Want him to actually win the stage from that break? Done. Want him to design and fabricate his own ultra-lightweight carbon Cycling shoes? Too late, he did that on his own.


This may seem obvious, but it is worth saying: if you are riding for a living, you have to love riding your bike. A professional spends an unholy number of hours on the bike each year, and most of it is training. You train to race. And yet, as with many other Cycling conventions, Adam Hansen has rethought that one. He races to race.


His high-altitude training camp for the Tour de France was the Giro d’Italia. His Vuelta a España preparation was the Tour de France. Normally that’s not done, because normal humans can’t do that.


A normal human would do one Grand Tour a year, or maybe the Giro and then the Vuelta, with a large recovery between. And that would be quite enough, thank you. What makes Hansen a Hardman is riding seventeen consecutive grand tours (up to and including the 2017 Giro) and finishing them all.

Adam Hansen wins Stage 7 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia.

Ride the Giro, recover, ride the Tour, recover, ride the Vuelta, year after year after year. It’s hard enough to even be selected for one Grand Tour as a rider, much less seventeen consecutive ones. That is an incredible feat in itself, but Adam works each stage: he leads out André ‘The Gorilla’ Greipel, gets in breaks, chases down breaks, wins stages and carries bottles. He also enjoyed a handed-up beer during the Tour stage where L’Alpe d’Huez was climbed twice.


This is a rider to love. When most other riders are cursing the organisers of the stage, Adam sees the crazy and manages to enjoy it. Every Grand Tour rider gets sick and gets tangled up in crashes. Adam does too, but he soldiers on, recovers and somehow shows up for the next one.
That many racing days give a rider time to ponder his predicament.


Adam is an engineer by training, so he knows weight and drag are key numbers to minimise. Reducing everyday drag for a professional Cyclist means modifying one’s position. Frames and wheels have already been made more aero in the wind tunnels, so the biggest gains available come from improving the aerodynamics of the rider.


If there are marginal gains to be had, he will have them. Adam decided to maximise his drop and start using narrow bars. Maximising his drop meant his riding position got lower and Flatter.


When most other riders are cursing the organisers of the stage, Adam sees the crazy and manages to enjoy it. Every Grand Tour rider gets sick and tangled up in crashes. Adam does too, but he soldiers on, recovers and somehow shows up for the next one.


As for the narrow bars, well, back in the 1980s the thinking was that handlebars should be as wide as your shoulders, ‘to keep your chest open’. Adam, the engineer, questioned this and realised that bringing your arms in was more aero, open chest or no. So he started to use narrower bars. Simple.


Our Adam makes his own minimalist Cycling shoes out of carbon fibre, and wears a skinsuit always; he is like Batman, if Batman fired his manservant and made all his own high-tech bling.


Besides the bike, Cycling shoes are the most expensive, highly engineered, hotly debated item a Cyclist will own. The quickest way to start a slap fight with a Cyclist is to query their footwear.


But Adam has his own ideas; these things on my feet should be lighter. Let’s see: 40 grams less per pedal stroke, times the number of pedal strokes per year … that can’t be right, 155 metric fucktons? I’d better get on that. So he eventually starts making shoes he can race in, Grand Tour after Grand Tour. They are unique. The fit, the cleat position, the single tightening knob, all very Adam Hansen.

Ten years ago he was already re-sewing his jerseys to make them fit more snugly. And ten years ago he was the only person thinking about that. His Highroad teammates back then must have wondered why he was making the effort. That’s just a marginal gain.


Right along with crashes and respiratory infections, the much-dreaded saddle sore is a hazard to avoid if one wishes to continue in stage races. The care and grooming of Adam’s groin must surpass the David Zabriskie level of fanaticism. Either that or he just has the iron ass of a Hardman. We don’t really want to know.


He gets away from the bike for long stretches: climbs to Everest base camp, competes in ultra-marathons, generally runs around the world staying active. He stays off the bike for huge intervals, doing other aerobic activities. This is an important lesson, this time away from two wheels.

Tour de France 2013 - Stage 16

Many of us have been slaves to the saddle, feeling we must put in the kilometres every week, year after year. It will lead to burnout and bodily harm. To avoid burnout and the Belleville effect try being decent (not totally sucking) at another aerobic sport or two, one that uses arms and upper body occasionally. Not golf, obviously. But if you have to play golf, keep your mouth shut about it to other Cyclists. We don’t care.


And yes, most of us have already sucked at all other sports, hence becoming Cyclists. To be a Cyclist requires nothing more than staying upright on a bike and trying hard. There are no hand-eye coordination aptitudes in Cycling. A good follow-through, balance, timing, technique … none of these things is actually requisite. Just ride the bike. A four-year-old can do it, for fuck’s sake.


Like anything, getting good at it requires major commitment. But really, practically only commitment. No membership fees, no lessons, just flying down the road, just like that four-year-old.


The C-word (commitment) is a loaded word for Cyclists. It’s mainly a positive thing, this self-requirement to spend loads of time on the bike, often alone, in all kinds of weather. But it will take a toll on relationships, maybe career, certainly all other interests. Yet despite those potential landmines, that same commitment will keep a person from getting fat and becoming an alcoholic (because getting up early on Sunday morning for a ride and being hungover are incompatible, over the long run). Concussion? Knocked-out teeth? Ruined knees? Torn shoulders? Nah, none of that, this is a sport for a lifetime.



Extracted from The Hardmen: Legends of the Cycling Gods, by The Velominati, out on June 1 (Pursuit Books £12.99)


Check out the range of The Velominati The Rules products, available from the Rouleur store.



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