Monday, December 15, 2008

Riding with Andy Hampsten

I had the unexpected pleasure yesterday of meeting, and riding with, cycling legend Andy Hampsten, the only American winner of the Giro d'Italia.

What a cool guy, a smart guy, a good conversationalist, and a fabulous ambassador for the sport of cycling.

These days Hampsten splits his time between Tuscany and Colorado. In Tuscany he puts on cycling camps for wanna-bes like me, taking them riding through the hills of wine country.

Yesterday Go Cycling Maui held its annual Christmas ride, a local fun ride/race which usually attracts about 80 cyclists and usually morphs from a “ride” into a “race” amongst the fastest guys. It's a pretty tough ride (about 2 ½ hours with almost 3000 feet vertical) so everyone who participates is a pretty serious rider. Ryder Hesjedahl, who currently rides for the Garmin-Chipotle team and rode in both the Tour de France and the Olympics last year, rode too. Donnie Arnoult, the owner of Go Cycling Maui, made a point of introducing me to Hampsten before we started as a guy who “works behind the scenes at some of the biggest sporting events in the world, including the Tour of California”. Andy seemed interested, and we had a nice chat.

About halfway through the ride, on the way out to Kahikinui, I teamed up with a couple of guys into a pace line and we caught a group of about 5 riders about a half-mile in front of us. Cycling is all about strength in numbers. When we sucked onto the back of that group, there on the front was Hampsten, just cruising along, taking pulls in what I would guess is 2nd gear for a rider of his class. Riding in a pace line with Andy Hampsten. Ah, just another day out on the roads. How inspiring. There was a car filming the action and another taking photos, so perhaps I'll wind up with a photo of me on the front next to Hampsten at some point. Hope the photo doesn't show my belly hanging out.

In Lake Louise I got some in pretty good workouts on my AT skis and skins, but that was in -20C. Most of yesterday's ride took place in drizzly, cool conditions, so I felt pretty good despite zero time on my bike in the last month. However, Maui is known for microclimates, the weather can change from rain forest to desert in a mile. When we got out to the turnaround at MM 24, the weather had cleared, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, the temperature was > 90, and the humidity was palpable. My brains started to bake, and I drifted off the back of the group. Halfway back to Ulupalakua, I knew I was in trouble. 6 or 7 miles to go, all of it uphill, and I was cramping badly, I was out of water, and although I had Endurolytes with me (amazingly effective anti-cramp pills), my mouth was too dry to try to ingest any. Like a mirage, my friend Dan, who's a pretty good rider but was driving sag (maybe he's hurt), pulled up next to me in the sag wagon and yelled “hey, you look like you could use some water!”. If my lips weren't so dry, I'd have pulled over and kissed the man. He handed me two bottles through the window. I downed one whole bottle straight away along with about 10 Endurolytes. In two minutes, the cramps were gone. I limped back to Ulupalakua without seizing up, then sat down and drank 5 bottles of water in a row.

When I got back home to Kula, it was 55 degrees and raining. Where was THAT weather when I needed it? I felt sick and faint for the rest of the day, but hey, I got to ride with Andy Hampsten.

Due to my line of work, I've met a lot of sports legends in my time. Connors, Lendl, Edberg, Evert, Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Bode Miller, Hermann Maier, Dale Earnhardt, Lance Armstrong, Rod Laver, Toni Sailer, Sinjin Smith, Mats Wilander, Sampras, McEnroe, Billy Cunningham, Ken Rosewall, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Vijay Singh, Patrick Rafter, Boris Becker (to name a few). I would have to say, based on anecdotal evidence, that sports legends are no more and no less douche-y than the general public. I would also say their social grace seems to grow as they get further and further into retirement. Some of the above, like Edberg and Ashe and Laver, were true gentlemen at the zenith of their careers, which is difficult, because at that stage everyone wants a piece of them, everybody wants to be their best friend.

I didn't know Hampsten when he was a star, but in retirement he seems like a truly cool fellow, and it totally made my week to have had the chance to chat him up and take a few pulls on the front with him.

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