Interview with Adam Hansen
“I love training. I like it more than racing.” These are strong words from a man who has won a stage of a Grand Tour. On the other hand, they give a unique insight into one of the peloton’s more unusual characters.
Forever defined by Crocodile Trophy victories in 2004 and 2005, Adam Hansen’s story deserves so much more, his turnaround from full-time computer programmer in Cairns to full-time cyclist in the Czech Republic saying it all.
Having finished his seventh consecutive Grand Tour and after taking victory in the seventh stage of this year’s Giro, Adam Hansen is now hastily preparing to go around again in 2014.
Hansen spent a fair portion of his childhood growing up in Hong Kong, leading a lifestyle rather at odds with the one he enjoys today. The seeds for a life as a computer programmer were being sown for Hansen who revealed that he was a little ‘chunky’ as a kid.
“In those times I did not know what sport was,” Hansen told CyclingTips.
School days involved taking the subway from his apartment building to school and back without ever gracing the great outdoors.
Looking back, Hansen now believes the paradoxical nature of his past revolves around the central tenants of dedication and getting the job done.
“I think they go well together,” he said of the culture clash between the computers of his adolescence and the bikes of his present. “Whatever you do at an intense level you always need a break or something dynamically different to keep some type of sanity.”
And sanity is what the computer provides for Hansen. Before he ‘made it’ Hansen enjoyed some notoriety on the Weight Weenies forums where he was known as ‘Zakeen’. Although he still visits the site, it’s only in a lurking capacity nowadays.
Hansen’s late teenage years back in Cairns, Australia, opened his eyes to the sporting world that he has since enmeshed himself in.
“I did triathlons from the age of 17,” he said. “I did a very few cycling races before heading to Europe. Just less than a year before heading to Europe I started to focus more on cycling.
“At that stage my cycling was the worst of the three disciplines. The idea was to do a season or two of racing to improve my cycling for my triathlons.”
And despite later making a name for himself on a mountain bike, skinny tyres were always the default choice for Hansen.
“At the same time I started going to Europe I competed in the Croc Trophy. They complemented each other and the Croc Trophy gave me a better name in Europe,” he added.
Crocodile Trophy organiser Gerhard Schönbacher saw talent being wasted in Hansen’s day job as a computer programmer and coaxed the Queenslander into taking the next step. Schönbacher’s Austrian connections saw Hansen spend four years racing with Austrian continental teams from 2003 to 2006. He was then on the path to the ProTour.
In 2005 Hansen was given the opportunity to do some testing with T-Mobile as his local performances had started to be noticed. Doors like this do not open very often, and despite excitement at the opportunity that lay at his feet, Hansen did not honestly think he could simply ‘test’ his way to the top.
“Previously I had done a performance test and was told I better stick to cooking!”, joked Hansen. “So the test was pretty scary at first. However I trained for the test. [I] looked it up and focused my training to do a good result.”
Despite impressing with his results (that unfortunately for the power geeks amongst us, he is not yet willing to divulge!) the ProTour door remained closed to Hansen for two more years, but that did not deter the rider who was taking a liking to his European lifestyle.
In 2006 Hansen first became known to his Australian competitors thanks to a barnstorming ride at the Australian road titles where he was the driving force behind the coup that saw Will Walker claim a stunning upset victory in Mt Torrens.
Hansen told Daily Peloton in 2005 that both his best and worst characteristic on the bike was his inability to bide his time.
“I give it 111%. I just love to race,” he said. “But this is also a bad thing too. I’m smart enough to know that I should wait for final moves, but I love to mix it up and be where the action is when I should be sitting in, resting and waiting. It’s not that I don’t know better, [I] just love to race!”
This aggression and raw power had others at the 2006 national titles scampering to find out exactly who this mystery man in yellow was. Hansen’s attack on the last lap shattered the leading group but it also shattered the anonymity he had previously enjoyed. For Hansen, it was nonetheless enjoyable to demolish those who underestimated him.
“It was nice. To hide a little and have other riders in your break just write you off,” he said. “It’s always nice to prove people wrong.”
Having put out big numbers in the lab in 2005 and on the road in 2006, the natural progression for Hansen was his ProTour berth with T-Mobile in 2007.
“In 2006 I did not think I would ride for T-Mobile during the season,” he explained. “It was not until the end of the season when they contacted me and offered me the contract. T-Mobile changed hands and cleared most of the riders out it and this opened up a lot of new positions. I had a good chance and I fitted the program well.”
Early in his T-Mobile tenure Hansen said that he sometimes felt like the European culture was so strong that it inhibited his ability to approach things in a different fashion. Despite this he has since proceeded to do a number of things against the grain.
Early on Hansen was forever adjusting his bike with additions that would result in bemusement and scorning from the ‘old-school’ team mechanics. But Hansen was never put off and pursued every gain, no matter how marginal.
“The culture is strong here unlike in Australia. Not for bad reasons either,” said Hansen. “I think for myself I was very open to try and approach things differently. I never cared what others thought even if I upset them. I had my ideas and just wanted to try them.”
Hansen rode his ‘twin tower’ aero bars to a national time trial title, chose handlebars for his road bike so narrow that he was told he could not have them as they were ‘women’s bars’, and sought more leverage via 180mm cranks rather than the regular 172.5-175mm options back then.
Hansen may not have built his own kitchen sink, but he did build his own altitude chamber. And in more recent years he has put his programming skills to good use and designed a logistics program for Lotto Belisol and sourced pre-preg carbon sheets to make his own ‘Hanseeno’ branded shoes.
Grand Tour, or Groundhog Day?
The flat stages of any tour can be a bore, let alone those of a three-week tour, and one wonders how a mind as innovative as Hansen’s handles the nauseating repetition.
The process is as follows: the attacks of the first hour have come and gone and the early break is up the road. The peloton has stopped for a ‘pisso’ and now the bunch is settling in with the GC team riding the front. There’s another four or five hours on the cards, it’s possibly raining and people are still fighting tooth and nail for every wheel.
These are the nine to five prospects of a professional cyclist.
“Some days like this you just want to fast-forward it,” Hansen admitted. “Especially when you can almost predict the outcome of the race.”
But this is where the role of the domestique comes into its own.
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”I’m smart enough to know that I should wait for final moves, but I love to mix it up and be where the action is!”]
“If the weather is bad it’s always nice to ride on the front, to keep warm, make time pass quicker or just to feel like you have a purpose,” said the 32-year-old.
And of course Hansen prefers to go up the road and perhaps snatch a stage as he did in the pouring rain in Pescara this May. And that glimpse of glory provides Hansen with a carrot to chase in seasons to come.
“Before [winning a Grand Tour stage] I never thought it would be so special,” he added. “It’s something I have achieved and won that no-one can take away from me. It’s a fantastic memory forever for me.”
Hansen’s first taste of European victory came when he won the third stage and the overall title at the 2010 Ster Elektrotoer.
“It was really nice for me. To have my first pro win in Europe was great,” he said.
The moment worth savouring, however, was not the champagne the team enjoyed in the bus after the race. It was Hansen’s fleeting moment of being on the receiving end of personal sacrifice — rather than donating his own.
As the race was being split to pieces across a typically narrow Dutch road, Hansen’s bike was ploughed into from behind and the frustrated Australian was left by the roadside watching the tail of the peloton snake into the horizon. Even so, following a quick bike change Hansen was soon greeted with a sight he was unaccustomed to: a full complement of HTC riders spread across the road, waiting for their leader.
“That was the most special moment for me in the race,” revealed Hansen. “Riding for HTC which was pretty much the best team at the time and to have all my teammates just wait for me and bring me back to the peloton was something special.”
For the first time, Hansen was on the inside looking out.
Catching Cav and Kittel
With his former teammates Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw set to reunite at Omega Pharma-QuickStep next season, Hansen is wary but not worried of the competition the Lotto team will face.
“Yeah, Cav needs Renshaw. That’s for sure,” he said. “But we have a dynamite Dane [Lars Bak], a hardman Australian [Hansen], a tall German [Marcel Sieberg], a Belgium Hulk [Jurgen Roelandts], an aggressive Kiwi [Greg Henderson] with the Gorilla [Andre Greipel] on the end powered by Nutella and Belgium Speculoos.”
Pseudonyms and favourite spreads aside, Hansen’s sights remain set on delivering Greipel to Grand Tour stage wins having left this year’s Tour de France with just one stage win and no green jersey.
“We made mistakes this year at the Tour, a lot of them,” admitted Hansen. “We had a bad Tour and came away with a win and a few second places. I think if we just avoid those mistakes, [Marcel] Kittel is not a problem for Andre.”
But what were those mistakes?
“Just little things,” explained Hansen. “Going through the peloton on the protected side when it can be easier — if you have the horsepower — to go up the side with more wind for an example. Or having a better understanding of the real finish.”
“When the GreenEDGE bus was stuck we were … told the finish was 3km before the finish and did not know [any different] until we crossed that point!”
Having explained in other interviews that he does enjoy using his horsepower at times to simply ride up the outside of the peloton and avoid unnecessary fighting for wheels, Hansen also knows that when it comes time to set-up the sprint for Greipel, taking more risks is simply part of the job description.
“[In the finale] we have more pressure,” he said. “I know during the [middle of the] race it makes little difference [to fight for wheels]. But towards the end of the stage the team relies on you and you must make sure you stand your ground and make it easier or better for your riders.”
Despite his moderated approach to risk-taking Hansen can’t avoid every fall, and like most professional cyclists he takes the ensuing injuries in his pedal stroke.
In his first season with T-Mobile Hansen finished the second stage of the Giro with a broken hand; one that required a three-and-a-half hour operation with a number of screws and plates to fix the four broken bones and cartilage damage.
In the 2010 Tour de France, similarly, Hansen finished the first stage with a couple of broken bones in his shoulder, even driving the front of the peloton for a sizeable portion of the stage.
But does Hansen envisage himself as a typical ‘tough-man’, or is he simply doing his job?
“We always have a choice to stop,’ he said. “But at the end of the day I would rather ride to the finish if possible and then go to the hospital to have it checked out than to pull out and find out I just had a soft moment.”
And although unwilling to succumb to a ‘soft moment’, Hansen believes there is more to his narrative.
“I don’t mind being called a ‘hardman’, but I don’t think I am. I’m a bit of a soft guy that can put up with a lot of things and not complain about it,” he said with a smile.
Hansen is the soft guy who has just finished his seventh Grand Tour in a row, the same soft guy who made his mark winning two Crocodile Trophies. In 2008 Hansen was forced into a parked car in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in a bone chilling collision that took the him out of the race.
“I saw the parked car and as the bunch was coming I put my whole body weight on the riders coming towards me. I couldn’t outpower them,” Hansen wrote on his website at the time. “I felt like a skinny bike rider playing rugby with a bunch of cattle and I was slammed into a car, over the bonnet, windscreen and last memory was the roof of it.”
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”Doing three Grand Tours in a season is more a mental challenge than a physical one.”]
The collision was so ferocious that his Team Columbia teammate Vicente Reynes thought Hansen was dead. Despite waking up in hospital with head and shoulder injuries in March, Hansen was at the start line of the Giro d’Italia only two months later. He finished the Giro and went on to finish the Tour.
If Adam Hansen is soft, there’s little hope for the rest of us.
However you classify him, Hansen’s latest achievement of completing seven Grand Tours in a row goes beyond regular adjectival classification. But it should come as no surprise that the nonchalant Hansen doesn’t buy into the hyperbole.
“I don’t think it is so bad or hard. I just do it,” he said. “I enjoy it and always liked the block of racing. I think every Grand Tour is difficult to get through for any cyclist. But doing three in a season is more a mental challenge than a physical one.”
But cycling diehards all want to know; what is harder, a Grand Tour or a Crocodile Trophy? Hansen isn’t in the business, however, of inflating his legacy and succinctly explained that both are very different and their respective difficulties go beyond words. One can only imagine the suffering.
And suffering remains on the cards for Hansen as he has just completed a pre-season camp in Mallorca and now hones his focus on starting the season at the Tour Down Under in 2014. From there he will continue the Grand Tour streak, and barring crashes or illness, Hansen will continue on as the hardest ‘soft guy’ the modern peloton has ever seen.
About the author
Jonathan ‘Jono’ Lovelock has raced with a variety of Australian national teams, various continental teams and travelled the world a few times over, and is still just 24 years of age.
While trying to find constructive ways of procrastinating during his commerce degree Jono discovered the art of blogging and the rest is history. When not busy riding he was writing and what started as nothing more than a fleeting foray has snowballed into regular features with RIDE Cycling Review and full-time employment with Cyclingnews.com.
Now a free agent again Jono is busily preparing himself for a return to racing, but not without the odd story in between.