To Everest base camp and beyond: how Adam Hansen continues to defy convention in pro cycling
With his 10th professional season having just started at the Australian road race championships, Adam Hansen looks back at an off-season that shows how different he is from many pro riders. He details what he got up to during his time away from two wheels, and also reveals an ambition that, once realised, will be an absolute first for a professional cyclist.
Pro bike rider. Grand Tour participation record holder. Cycling shoe maker. Kit designer. Software programmer. Property investor. Adam Hansen is arguably the most versatile man in pro cycling who, when he’s not doing Grand Tour after consecutive Grand Tour, switches off totally and engages his body and brain in a completely different direction.
Now Hansen has given further examples of that versatility, telling CyclingTips about the many things he got up to in the off-season plus one hugely challenging goal for the future.
“The weekend after the worlds I did an ultra-trail race, 115 kilometres in length,” he explained, talking as the days ticked down to the start of his season.
“Yes, I’m a bit nuts! My GPS said it I did 119km … and four kilometres of extra running is a lot at the end of the event.
“After that I went to Hong Kong for a few days with a best friend and then onto Dubai on the way home for some work reasons.
“I then had to catch up on a lot of work at home before going to the Himalayas. As soon as that was finished I was in Belgium at the team building and then home for a week, then a training camp and, after that, directly to Australia.
“I didn’t spend more then a week at home but it was ok.”
The stream of activities and destinations gives an insight into his mind and energy levels. While most pro riders use the off-season to recharge batteries after months of draining racing, the Aussie Duracell bunny keeps going and going.
In an interview last year with CyclingTips, he spoke about the importance of racing hard but then switching off. Hansen can be highly focussed on the bike – something that is needed when doing three Grand Tours a year – but then likes to change things up in order to remain mentally fresh.
“There is always something – I like to be busy,” he said last April. “This is also why I like the [racing] programme I have because I do have big blocks at home where I can switch off from cycling and live a different life.”
Battling rock, gradient and altitude
Hansen’s different life during the off-season included one of the most unusual winter activity we’ve heard of; an extended trip to the Himalayas, where he and others put boots and backpacks on and tackled tough weather plus difficult climbing conditions.
“The trip was something I have always wanted to do,” he said. “In every off season and also in February I do a lot of hiking as training as we have so much snow in Czech Republic.
“I always wondered why pros don’t do more holiday training camps. To see the world a bit and get really good training in at the same time, instead of going to the same island every single year …”
Hansen flew into Lukla, a town in the Khumbu area of north-eastern Nepal. It has been called the most dangerous airport in the world, with a short, steep airstrip and difficult weather conditions combining to cause several big accidents in the past.
The town is 2,860 metres above sea level and was the starting point for what was to follow.
“I was with a group of friends,” Hansen said. “We had no guide, no porters. We carried everything. We started by going from Lukla to Namche Bazaar, which is at 3,440 metres. We stayed there two nights and did a loop of hiking.”
After that, the group went from Namche Bazaar to Dole, climbing to an altitude of 4,130 metres, then to the village of Machhermo (4,410m).
Hansen left his 17kg backpack there and did a day trip to Gokyo (5,360m) and back. After that, it was on to the highest point of the whole trip. Starting in Dragnag, they climbed over the Cho La pass, 5,430 metres above sea level and almost three times the height of Alpe d’Huez, before descending to Lobuche.
Hansen noted the effort of climbing Cho La pass, with the altitude imposing huge demands.
“It’s incredibly difficult to breathe, especially with a heavy backpack,” he explained. “For example, when I’d take a water bottle and drink from it, I would have to have little sips because I needed breaks to breathe …
“The trip was really done too quickly. It should have been done slower, in terms of altitude gain, but I didn’t really have the time.”
The final segment saw Hansen leave his backpack in Lobuche and hike up to Everest base camp (5,350 metres), then returning to Lobuche before descending to Namche Bazaar and then back to Lulka in order to fly out.
“For me it was a bit of an experience,” he said, assessing the trip with a degree of understatement. “It was a nice change from the other mountain areas I do my hiking training in.
“I have not decided where I will do my next one, but for sure it will be something close to that.”
Heading to the top of the world?
Hansen has long had a reputation for toughness. In 2004 and again in 2005 he won the Crocodile Trophy, a 10-day mountainbike stage race held in North Queensland, Australia.
Regarded as one of the most demanding mountain bike races, it sees the competitors face difficult heat conditions plus the rough terrain of the Australian Outback.
After he turned pro with T-Mobile in 2007 he continued to thrive on big challenges. In 2011 he began what would become a record-breaking sequence in the sport, riding Grand Tour after Grand Tour. To date he has successfully competed 13 in a row, and wants to further extend that run in 2016.
He’s worked for teammates in those races but also had the strength to chase his own success at times, winning a stage in the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and another in the 2014 Vuelta a España.
Pushing his own boundaries is clearly something he thrives on, and so too battling nature at her toughest. In that light, it’s possible to see the attraction of what would be perhaps his biggest challenge yet.
He’s been to the base camp of Mount Everest. He now confirms he wants to make it to the summit one day.
“For sure, I would like to do it in the future,” he said. “I even considered it during a race season. I tried to fit it in a few years ago.
“I think the way I do so much cross training it wouldn’t affect me so much. I’m not the type of cyclist that believes you must ride your bike to retain a good level of fitness.”
Indeed he might have pushed ahead with that ambition then, except for timing.
“It’s just difficult to do because the best time of the year to go to Everest is before or around the Giro,” he said.
“The trip I just did was actually not the best time to go up. Mostly because of the air pressure that time of the year, which means there’s less oxygen at that time.”
Hansen plans to keep racing for some time yet, but once that’s done, stepping up his Himalayan exploits and tackling the world’s highest mountain could well be on the cards. Given everything he has done before, it would be utterly in line with his character.
“I would like to go to the top. It’s on my bucket list,” he said, an ambition that further enhances the perception of him as the peloton’s toughest rider.
Considering what he has achieved thus far, few would bet against him unfurling an Aussie flag atop the summit some day.