Andy Hampsten could easily have chosen another restaurant in which to have supper in his adopted hometown of Boulder, Colo. He could have selected the Morgul Bismarck, for instance, where the names of distinguished cyclists are etched on mirrors and where a rider of Hampsten's standing can expect a glass of fine wine to hit the table soon after he sits down. But he has picked this subterranean Chinese joint for essentially the same reason he chose Boulder itself: It will indulge his desires to be nourished and to be left more or less alone.
Hampsten has finished his plate of steamed vegetables and cracks open a fortune cookie, FIRE PROVES GOLD, ADVERSITY PROVES MEN, the slip reads. Hampsten doesn't need to be told this; it's a credo by which all cyclists live. Adversity will prove the man who rolls into the Tour de France next week carrying the hopes of American cycling through the 26 days of the sport's most grueling and prestigious event.
There's a message in the medium here. Hampsten is the type of person for whom a fortune cookie is as legitimate an instrument of communication as a minicam. This would be fine, except that the Southland Corporation, which keeps 7-Eleven revvin', is paying Hampsten a reported $200,000 this year to be an advertising vehicle.
Hampsten, fourth-place finisher in last year's Tour de France and perhaps the best mountain racer in the world, signed with 7-Eleven over the winter, before defending Tour champion Greg LeMond was accidentally shot in the back and side while hunting turkeys in April. With LeMond recovering and not expected to race again until late summer, Hampsten, as the top returning American finisher and now a proven Tour racer, will attract a good deal of attention during the Tour. But he's an absolute media naïf, a 25-year-old demographic aberration who doesn't own a TV and still uses terms like "selling out."
Hampsten was LeMond's sole American teammate during the 1986 Tour, when both rode for the mighty French La Vie Claire team. And he was at the center of LeMond's historic Tour victory, the first ever by an American. But it was a stormy center. Hampsten barely endured the emotional rigors of serving as a sort of chambermaid on one of the greatest cycling teams ever assembled, of being expected to chase down breakaways and draft for LeMond and the legendary Bernard Hinault of France.
But worse was the turmoil involving LeMond and Hinault within La Vie Claire. LeMond had dutifully worked for Hinault in 1985, sacrificing his own chance to win to help set up Hinault's record-tying fifth Tour victory. In return, LeMond understood that '86 would be his year—that all the resources of La Vie Claire, including Hinault, would be marshaled in his behalf.
But by 1986, Hinault harbored other notions. In what he had announced would be his final Tour de France, Hinault set out for an unprecedented sixth victory. A bitter LeMond felt betrayed. With all of France and much of his own team aligned against him, LeMond enlisted Hampsten in his effort to win.
As the Tour moved through the Pyrenees, Hinault took the lead and tried to put LeMond away by breaking from the pack during the ascent of the Super-bagnères, a rugged stage of the race culminating in a 1,160-meter final climb. It was left to Hampsten, the mountain rider, to chase down Hinault, permitting LeMond to charge over the last five kilometers of that stage and wipe out most of Hinault's cushion. LeMond would say later, "Hampsten won me the Tour de France."
The struggle between Hinault and LeMond had repercussions into the winter, ultimately delivering Hampsten to the relatively inexperienced 7-Eleven team. "I'd been on the inside of one of the ugliest things I'd ever seen," Hampsten says. "I know Greg would never want to do something like that to me, and I know he'd never want me in a situation where he'd fear I'd do it to him."
Because of LeMond's accident, Hampsten would have been the premier rider on La Vie Claire (now called Toshiba-Look), but he doesn't rue his decision to jump to the only American-sponsored team in the Tour. Hampsten is now clear of the shadows of cycling's two great riders and the specter of French nationalism. "I can create a team like La Vie Claire for me," says Hampsten, unconcerned that 7-Eleven's top finisher last summer was 63rd. "I like taking risks."