PEZ Talk: Adam Hansen
In no small part thanks to his amazing stamina and efforts of completing the Giro, Tour de France & Vuelta in the same year for the last two years running Adam Hansen is one of the most popular domestiques in the WorldTour today. He’s not just a popular guy thanks to his physical capabilities though he’s also got a lot of interesting things to say off the bike as we recently found out during an off season chat with the Lotto-Belisol strongman.
To put it simply, Adam Hansen does cool stuff. He’s experimented with narrow handlebars and other tweaks on his bike; he’s made his own carbon custom shoes (now available at hanseeno.com); and on his Twitter account he tweets irreverent pictures from the life of a pro cyclist, in between digs at his teammates. When PEZ first interviewed him in 2008 he was giving away old team kit on his blog.
You might ask, though, is Hansen what some might think of as a stereotypical Australian – gliding through the rigors of being a pro cyclist like a Flandrian floating over the cobbles, with a down under bravado and Aussie irreverence so that the troubles of life on the road slide off him like a Dolomiti shower off a rain cape?
Seven grand tours. In a row. There’s your answer right there. Hansen takes his job super seriously and has now compiled a record of consecutive grand tours that is unprecedented and might never be equalled. Three in one year is one thing, but seven in a row – every Vuelta, Giro and Tour since the Vuelta in 2011 – is something else entirely. Not only that, but according to Cycling Quotient, Hansen completed 15,209 kilometres of racing this year(!), or 98 days in total – equal first place in the pro peloton. Last year it was 104 race days (Hansen counted 106), the highest number of any rider. That’s not gliding through.
When PEZ talked to him last, at the end of 2011, it had been a tough season of adjusting to a new team and a new race schedule. He was not even selected for the Tour team that year. But in the last two years, it has all clicked into place, so PEZ wanted to know what he was doing right.
“It took a while to get into a new team, I guess,” said Hansen. “To know what races I am good at and what they are happy with also. The last two years I have had almost the exact same program and it has worked out really well. Also, next year will be the same. This took time to work out and now it’s right for me.”
The subject of the seven grand tours in a row came up quickly and the obvious line of questioning was the secret – other than suffering – behind such a feat and whether it was being able to structure racing and training around the grand tours.
“It’s really down to the structure of the race program, the training for it, and most importantly the recovery,” said Hansen. “I race a lot, a real lot, but I also recover more then any other pro, I believe. Recovery is my key.”
Still, that all sounds good in theory, especially the recovery, but 15,000 kilometres over 98 days of racing is still a big workload. PEZ had to ask: Are you totally shattered and can you do it for another season?
“I actually feel really good and hope to do the same next year,” answered Hansen. “It’s two years in a row now with such high numbers. This year I have taken the recovery process to another level. I feel right now I’m ready to start my training for my new season but I am forcing myself to wait a few more weeks.”
The same again next year? That would make ten grand tours consecutively! But uninhibited fan respect is one thing, so PEZ was interested to know if he had gotten any respect from other riders in the peloton and if guys were talking to him about it.
“I don’t know if I get respect from the other riders,” said Hansen. “But I get a lot of guys talking to me about it. A lot of them are interested in what I do between the races and the type of training I do.”
Completing the Giro, Tour and Vuelta means a lot of European road miles but also a chance to savour the different flavours that each of the tours offers. PEZ asked Hansen to sum these up for the uninitiated.
“The Giro – super hard, long climbs and great passionate fans,” he said. “The Tour – fastest speed, most pressure with tourist cycling fans! The Vuelta – used to be a nice build up and introduction for neo pros into grand tour racing but now it’s more about super steep climbs with the least amount of pressure.”
The Giro and the Vuelta organizers have worked hard to make their races more ‘interesting’ to the fans, but this has sometimes been at the expense of the riders. Was there anything particularly tough that stood out this year?
“The weather was hard in the Giro,” said Hansen. “But I don’t think the organizers planned that one. The Giro was hard and always is. But the Vuelta is getting harder and harder every year. Some of the climbs are stupidly hard!”
We are a fickle lot, us cycling fans; we want drama and suffering and action and excitement, but at some point we don’t want it to be a spectacle over a sporting event. We still care about fair play and the results on the road. We like the hard workers behind the scenes, the team players like Adam Hansen, as well as the winners. And we like to see these team players get a chance at individual glory. Hansen had his chance on stage 7 of the Giro into Pescara and took a hard-ridden solo victory. PEZ asked: You’re usually part of the winning team, working for someone else, so how did this one feel?
“It was just so unreal,” said Hansen. “I forget sometimes until people remind me. I take it as a reward for the hard work that I have helped my leaders with in the past. It’s also nice to have something special like this so when I retire, I feel like personally I did something in this sport, where on one day in the calendar, it was my day. It’s a very nice feeling.”
Hansen may never have to buy a drink in Italy again, but what about the grand tour finishes with their festive atmospheres, laps of honour, and spectacular scenery. Did he have favourite?
“The Tour is always good with Paris,” said Hansen. “With the jets flying past on our first lap in the colours of the French flag was great. I have always liked the Vuelta finish in Madrid. The Giro this year was a bit loooooong – 200 kilometres for the last stage was a bit to much.”
Ah, the grand tour life – Paris, Madrid, Brescia. When PEZ caught up with Hansen last time he had yet to take to Twitter (we take no credit, despite having brought it up with him then). Since then he has been prolific (@HansenAdam), but with a particular tilt towards the light-hearted side, suggesting that perhaps there is some Australian irreverence coming through. Aside from the often-comical pictures, there is some entertaining banter between teammates Greg Henderson (a Kiwi, the typical foil for an Aussie) and Andre Greipel (who seems to get it from all sides). PEZ wanted to know whether it was all part of serious team-building or more a case of having some fun.
“It’s about having fun I guess,” said Hansen. “I know we have a lot followers and it’s about giving something to the people outside of the racing. We know this is important for the fans of cycling and we don’t mind to put a bit of effort to show people that cycling is not only a race, but a lifestyle while we are on the road together, and we like to bring the fans closer to this.”
This idea of bringing fans closer to the action has been a hit and Hansen has just over 47,000 followers. So there is a light-hearted side and a serious side to Hansen’s world, much like his tinkering with handlebar width, bike setups, and homemade shoes. PEZ asked: Is this your own take on ‘marginal gains’ – there’s presumably a serious side to it – but is it also a kind of experimental approach to racing that you have personally?
“Yeah, it is my ‘marginal gains’ I guess,” said Hansen. “I do take it all seriously and I believe all these little things add up and help in a big way. Things must be perfect or as close to it if we can have some control in the situation. When I spend so much time on the bike, let’s enjoy those moments.”
Those marginal gains are pretty important in today’s racing. As is off season preparation, which seems to get pushed back earlier and earlier when the serious racing starts at the beginning of 2014. What was Hansen’s plan and how did it fit in with staying off the bike to recover from a full-on 2013?
“I stay in EU for the off season,” he said. “I last touched my bike on the last stage of Beijing. I wont touch it again till the 4th of December, which is four days before the team’s training camp [Hansen has re-signed with Team Lotto Belisol]. In my off season I don’t like to ride the bike so much. I will focus on cross training and winter sports. It’s always worked well with me in the past and I would like to keep following the system that I have had.”
That system has indeed been successful and the seven consecutive grand tours are testimony to that. This whole approach seems to fit with a larger picture of a structured race program and a particular approach to training for it.
“In short, quality over quantity for the training,” explains Hansen. “Recovery is the key. Don’t be afraid to take time off.”
PEZ has always liked to ask Hansen the big picture questions, trying to dig a bit deeper into what it is actually like to be a pro cyclist, how the view might be described from the inside to those of us on the outside. One recent perspective from the inside was Charly Wegelius’s book ‘Domestique’, which generally portrays the life of a pro cyclist as pretty grim – relentless training for few rewards, financial uncertainty, fickle sponsors, and a generally cut-throat working environment that takes up the best years of a rider’s life (there were some high points in there, but not that many). PEZ thought this would be a good starter for the discussion.
“Charly made a good point about that pro cycling takes up the best years of a person’s life,” said Hansen. “This is true and I think about it often. Cycling is not ‘just go and race’ and ‘come home and do what you would like’. You are under a constant diet program; can’t go out or do anything remotely close to something that could get you ill or injured. So some things are put on hold. That is true. But with this, and the possibility of injury or even death in a bike race, these are the only two negatives I find about being a pro.”
Those might be regarded as some serious negatives, particularly the level of training, the total commitment, required to be competitive as a pro cyclist.
“Relentless training for few rewards? To me the training is the reward,” said Hansen. “I love my training! It’s a formula for your performance at the races. There is no single right way to do it. You have to work out what’s best for you and this is a nice challenge to have. Also, going out and riding heaps in the countryside of a foreign country is an amazing thing. Beats any office job. Today I spent six hours hiking over amazing summits in Austria. This is my job! And I get paid to do it. That’s a reward right there.”
It is hard as the writer not to fall back on another stereotype of Australians abroad, off to the Old World and relishing the possibility of adventure, the last ones out, having bought, worn out, and even reprinted the t-shirts. There are seldom fortunes to be made, but certainly something worth writing home about.
“Cycling should not be looked at as a rider… to be in the sport to make money,” said Hansen. “It’s to be in the sport to enjoy the sport and the lifestyle that comes with it. If you had to pay for what we see and experience it would be a bit of a number. It’s best to look at it as a package and enjoy it for what it is. Life is hard as a cyclist – no doubt. Racing is hard and sometimes you do wish to have an office job. But at the end of the day, overall, the experience and lifestyle is unmatched in any other sport. I love it.”
For those of us with office jobs, we do our best to see both sides as well. Hearing these perspectives, from riders like Hansen, always goes that little bit further in helping us to understand the sport that we love. And a few stereotypes get overturned along the way. Many thanks for Adam for taking the time – right in the perfect window before he gets back on his bike – and we look forward to seeing his grand tour exploits in 2014.