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Adam Hansen has a little over two weeks of racing in the pro peloton before he moves on. The 39-year old Australian will switch to Ironman triathlons after the Giro d’Italia. His first will be on November 7 in Lisbon, Portugal, less than two weeks after the Giro finishes in Milan.
“I can’t wait,” Hansen tells me. “There is so much to look forward to! I get to be in control of everything I do. I am going to be on my own and will be also fully responsible of every mistake I am going to make.
“I am looking forward to experimenting with equipment, with food, with training camps, with race programs. It’s going to be a totally new experience to be alone after so many years working in a team.”
Ironman triathlons are not completely new to Hansen though. After the last race of the 2019 season, the Tour of Guangxi, Hansen flew to Florida to do his first Ironman: a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bike leg and a full 42 km marathon.
“Nobody knew I was going to do that,” he says. “I wanted to keep it a secret from everyone. The result was that I had absolutely no idea about some basics of the sport: things like support during the race or how the feed zone works. [Journalist] Brad Culp was on-site to do a story on the Florida Ironman and recognised my name from the pro peloton. I was hesitant to talk at first because I wanted to keep the anonymity but he helped me out so well that he became my manager. Having him as backup for this new adventure made the decision to make the switch easier.”
A little secret, I was a triathlete before I was a cyclist and my bike leg was my worse. I joined a cycling team to improve it and just stayed in the sport. It would be wrong of me just to focus on cycling while doing Triathlons.
— Adam #Vegan Hansen (@HansenAdam) October 3, 2020
Hansen has been part of the Lotto-Soudal outfit since 2011. He and nine of his teammates were sent a resignation letter earlier this week which meant that his time as one of the longest-serving riders on the Belgian team is over.
“That story was misrepresented a bit,” Hansen explains. “It’s the law in Belgium that you have to send resignation letters before the 1st of October or you will automatically have a new work contract for next year. I actually had these letters for the past three years. For 2021 I did think about incorporating my new sport into a pro cycling team because it’s actually a great way to prepare for Ironman but Lotto-Soudal is a bit too traditional for this, although John Lelangue [the team manager] did discuss it with the sports directors.
“I also must have complete freedom to define my program and not have last minute call-ups for races I don’t want to do. With so many young guys coming onto the team those call-ups were going to happen.”
Other Lotto-Soudal riders can and are currently still negotiating with the Belgian team for a new deal for 2021 but Hansen made up his mind.
Looking back over his time in the pro peloton, Hansen has fond memories of being part of the hugely successful Lotto-Soudal sprint train that was built around André Greipel. He considers this a highlight of his long career.
“There was this day in [Three Days of] De Panne when we were still all riding with HTC-Columbia,” Hansen recalls. “André, Siebie [Marcel Sieberg], Vincente Reynes and me were at a local McDonalds having a sundae when discussing Omega Pharma [the predecessor of the current Lotto-Soudal team]. André was hesitant to leave HTC because he felt he could only win with us. I said that he was always riding the second-tier races and that he should do Tour de France. We there decided to all move together to Omega-Pharma.”
It was the continuation of a very successful partnership which also involved Jurgen Roelandts, Lars Bak, who joined in 2012, and Greg Henderson who came over from Team Sky that same year. Together they were the foundation of the 11 Tour de France stages Greipel won between 2011 and 2016.
“We were a group of friends and know and knew each other so well,” he says. “It is just so rewarding to be part of a super strong and such a successful setup like we had with André but also at HTC with Mark Cavendish. We were unstoppable together.”
De Panne wasn’t one of Hansen’s favorite races though. The cold and miserable weather doesn’t hold many fond memories for the Australian rider.
“The same goes for Paris-Nice,” he adds. “I came from the Australian summer, then did some races in the Middle East and then came Paris-Nice, every year again. With global warming and climate change, winters start later and last longer. The cycling calendar never changed though so Paris-Nice was usually cold, wet, and often snowed in.
“Coming from the warmer climate it was always a huge shock to the system but I never said no. That is something I won’t miss at all, to be honest. I now get to race whenever and wherever I want to. I also get to be home so much more.”
Hansen plans on committing 100% to his new sport and hopes to do nine Ironman races a year and throw in some half Ironmans for good measure too. With the COVID-19 crisis far from over Hansen really had to think his plan through.
“What we now see in pro cycling is that stage races are far more vulnerable to cancellation than one-day races,” he says. “Ironman is also a one-day race. Moreover, it’s usually not as crowded with public as cycling is. The fans have more of an online presence. When you start in waves as competitors there is a natural social distancing. Even when you all start together the differences will soon be there during or straight after the swim.
“I am based in the Czech Republic and can drive to Ironmans in Germany, Austria, France. I expect that next year many events will be able to take place.”
Hansen is a highly intelligent guy and known for his technological quirks. He makes his own ultralight cycling shoes and helped popularise much narrower handlebars and the use of skinsuits in normal, non-sprint races and stages. He will of course have an edge in cycling when it comes to triathlon and plans to introduce some of his inventions into his new sport too.
“To be free from UCI regulations will be great,” he says. “I will be like a child in a candy store! I can do so much more with aerodynamics on bikes that don’t need to be UCI-regulated. I can also choose my own sponsors for equipment and food. I also work together with a Japanese company called Leomo with motion analysis and in aerodynamics and we will be looking at the position on the bike.
“I think that in triathlon we can be so much more efficient but also be more comfortable than the traditional time trial tucked-in position. There are so many things that can be improved on and I am looking forward to that. I can improve my swimming although I am already under the hour. The biggest gain is on the bike because it’s the longest event.
“Running will be hardest on the body. The trick is to run some marathons cruisier and do two or three a year at full speed.”
Hansen is a perpetual fan favourite for those from Australia and beyond. He thinks people can relate to him because he is a hard worker, a blue-collar pro cyclist so to speak. He’s always polite and kind-hearted but isn’t someone who craves attention.
“I won’t miss being in the spotlight,” he says. “That has never been me. The Tour de France has always been a theme park on wheels. That’s why I love the Giro d’Italia so much. It was my first of the 29 Grand Tours and it will be my last. This is where the true fans are lined up at the side of the road.
“When friends from the Czech Republic or Australia come over it’s what they notice too. And the Italian food is a favourite too. I must also add that the lack of Campanile hotels in Italy is a bonus,” he adds with a smile.
In 14 years at the highest level of the sport, Hansen has seen plenty of change. The biggest changes didn’t necessarily come at the team he rides for — Belgian cycling remains traditional at heart — they came from the composition of the peloton.
“When I started, we had maybe three or four riders under 21 in the entire peloton,” he says. “The jersey for best young rider in the Grand Tours was for riders under 25. Now you see so many young guys. The sport has also become more science-driven. The steps we made in equipment have been huge in the past five or six years.”
When he looks back at many years in the pro peloton he has no regrets.
“There will always be things I could have done differently but I look back at this period with pride,” he says. “I won national championships, some European races, won stages in the Giro and Vuelta, and did that 20 Grand Tour streak. I should be super proud of what I achieved.
“What’s coming next doesn’t scare me at all. I am completely ready to move on and just can’t wait for this new chapter in my life.”