I suppose it's just a sign of how rich our sport is and how enthusiastic we are about it that some of the most iconic rides in cycling go virtually unmentioned in these pages. It almost seems as though they are so tightly woven into legend that we take them for granted, these rides. Nevermore, nevermore: enter a new V-Series where we'll do our best to pull these old rides up from the their place in the backs of our collective minds and dwell on their Awesomeness. I'm not saying we're going to be factual or give a history lesson – that would take “work” and “research”. Instead, we'll just touch on a few of the details we find most interesting, fill the gaps in with confidently-asserted assumptions (which are almost as good as facts, and much less work), and let the community do the rest.
There is no better place to start than Andy Hampten's ride over the Gavia in 1988. Riding a Huffy. I understand it was actually a bike built by famed American framebuilder Ben Serotta, but it said Huffy on it and we all know you're not allowed to lie in writing. Growing up in the States, Huffy's were for kids and even by our standards were crappy bikes. At the time, I imagined Hampsten's bike was heavy, felt like spaghetti on two meatballs for wheels, and had a pedal-brake.
Hampsten had found some success in the professional world in 1985 when he won Stage 20 of the Giro while on a one-month contract with Team 7-Eleven. Hot on the heels of that success, Bernard Hinault snatched him up and brought him into La Vie Claire as Mountaingoat Domestique. But by 1987, however, 7-Eleven was in search of a new leader after having sacked Alexi Grewal on account of his consistent violation of Rule #36 and Rule #37, in addition to his highly questionable choice in headgear.
I can only imagine what was going through the team management's mind when they awoke on the morning of the stage over the Gavia, knowing it was cold and raining in the start village and hearing that over a meter of snow had fallen on the passes. Many of them being based in Boulder, CO, they knew a thing or two about snow and they promptly bought up all the cold-weather gear they could find in the local ski shops and made plans to distribute it to the team's riders along the route.
It's good that the management had some inkling as to the ordeal they were in for, since it appears the riders were fairly oblivious:
On the way up I got rid of all of my warm clothes, my legs were bare, no shoe covers. I did have a pair of neoprene diving gloves that I kept on for the entire climb. Along the way my team car gave me a neck-gator and a wool hat.
I wanted to dry my hair before I put it on €“ maybe 4-5 ks before the top, so I brushed through my hair, thinking I was going to wipe some water out, and a big snowball rolled off my head, and down my back.
I thought €“ €˜Oh my gosh €“ I'm really not producing much heat, even though I've been going up a really hard grade.' So then I had my raincoat, a super thin polypro undershirt on, so my arms were covered, but I was NOT warm at the top of the mountain. We could spend a few hours while I figure out how to describe how cold I was€¦
– Andy Hamptsen
Up was cold, but tolerable. Down was excruciating. For those of us who have descended a mountain on a sunny day, we know that going down is much colder than going up. For those of us who have done it in the cold or rain know that your body gives up on shivering and moves on to full-body shakes in an attempt to stay warm. I descended once in moderate sleet, and based on that, I hope none of us will ever have to say we've descended in a blizzard.
Chaos ensued. Hardmen wept. Riders stopped at the side of the road and pissed on their hands and legs in a desperate attempt to warm their extremities. A Dutchman flew the coup and won the day, but the big winner was Hampsten, who went on to claim the only American Giro win to date.
Hampsten's Legendary Huffy, in Huangist detail (this is the reason we love to love that Jimmy-boy):
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Some great accounts of this ride:
Bike Radar: True Stories: Andy Hampsten – The Gavia 1988