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Out from the shadows, Hansen pulls off a stage win for the ages

PESCARA, Italy (VN) — When he crossed the finish line alone and in the rain at the Giro d’Italia on Friday, Adam Hansen had done more than win the stage — he’d carved out a little slice of cycling history.

Riding for the Belgian squad Lotto-Belisol, the brawny 31-year-old Australian — he turns 32 on Saturday — rode with panache, driving a six-man breakaway over a hilly course profile, going clear with 20 kilometers remaining, and holding off a chasing group of overall favorites to take a dramatic solo victory.

The win came as just dessert for the muscle-bound rider who has spent his career humbly churning over his pedals in the shadows as a domestique.

“This is the biggest win of my life,” Hansen said at the finish. “It’s a very special day. Tomorrow is my birthday, and this is a good present for myself. This means a lot to me; I was very emotional when I crossed the line. I never thought this would ever happen.”

A former computer programmer — he even gave advanced database lectures at his university — Hansen came into pro cycling through triathlon.

“I started as a runner, and then got into triathlon,” Hansen said. “The swim and run were my best disciplines, so I focused more on my cycling. I came to Austria to ride for an amateur team. My year in Austria was enjoyable, I found I really loved cycling, and I never turned back.”

After four seasons with amateur Austrian teams, Hansen joined T-Mobile in 2007, riding under manager Bob Stapleton and sport directors Rolf Aldag and Brian Holm. In all, he spent four years with the team, riding in support of team leaders such as Mark Cavendish and Michael Rogers. He left the team for the Lotto squad in 2011.

Though he’s not historically been a winner, during his career Hansen has become a bit of a sentimental fan favorite, both for his humble, low-key personality and his hardman accomplishments, such as finishing all three grand tours in 2012.

He’s also known for having a laugh on social media — like when he posted photos of a skeleton in a Lotto-Belisol team kit on Twitter during a December team camp — and for his custom carbon race shoes, which he molded and designed himself.

Lotto-Belisol came to the Giro without a specified GC rider or sprinter, opening the door to opportunists. On a difficult stage with four categorized climbs, 8,500 feet of elevation gain in the final 50km, and countless uncategorized climbs before that, Hansen made it into the day’s breakaway alongside five other riders. That, he said, was the hardest part of his day.

“Today, on profile, looked like breakaway stage,” Hansen said. “The stages before, we were not really jumping to get into a break and I was hoping it was going to be today. I was very motivated this morning; I even shaved my head to be ready for it. It was always the idea today to be in the break, but it’s very difficult, with a lot of fighting at the start. People don’t realize that the hardest part of the race is to get into the break. Once it’s sorted, it’s almost like a lottery, if it stays, or comes back.”

As the stage progressed and the group’s lead over the peloton stretched out to seven minutes, Hansen said he began to believe they might have a chance to stay clear and fight it out for the stage win. However, as the time gap began to fall back down, particularly when Vini Fantini-Selle Italia began to up the tempo in hopes of setting up local favorite Danilo Di Luca, Hansen said he feared his time off the front of the race was short.

Believing that Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) appeared to be the strongest of his breakaway companions, Hansen said he began formalizing a plan to get to the finish line alone. The 6-foot, 170-pound strongman had his work cut out for him, first against the 5-foot-4, 110-pound Italian climber, and later, navigating the wet, treacherous descent that took down several GC favorites.

“I knew Sella was strongest, and I don’t think he would have expected me to challenge him on the climbs, so I started trying to crack him mentally,” Hansen said. “I think it was more of a shock for him, and I was surprised that he suffered on a few of the climbs. Even in the last 10km, with the time gaps I had been given, I was never so sure, I never believed, I always thought it would come back. Then, when I heard it was 2:30 with 6km to go, I thought, ‘It’s really happening. This time I’m bringing it home.’ It really is a lottery.”

On Friday, riding with panache on a team sponsored by the Belgian national lottery, Hansen, the eternal underdog, came up a winner.

“It’s very nice,” he said. “You work, and work, and work, and then you finally get one back. I appreciate it very much, this win.”

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