Tour de France 2020

VN Archives: Andy Hampsten wins atop Alpe d’Huez with just one STI lever

On the 14th stage of the 1992 Tour de France to Alpe d'Huez, the peloton was split over the use of lighter, traditional down-tube shifters versus slightly heavier but more convenient STI levers. American Andy Hampsten used both and won.

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When Motorola’s Andy Hampsten won the Tour’s 14th stage to Alpe d’Huez, he was not only the first American to win on the mountain but also the first to do it with Shimano STI levers — which had been regarded as too heavy by Gianni Bugno, the winner of the stage for the previous two years. To be exact, Hampsten used only one STI shift-brake lever.

“I like using STI — I couldn’t live without it,” Hampsten explained. “But I prefer the setup of one STI lever and one normal brake lever. It makes the bike lighter for the mountains, but I can still keep my hands on the bars when the race starts to get nervous on the flat stages, like in the lead-up to a finish.”

All right, I can hear you saying it: Using just one STI lever isn’t going to add much weight. That’s right, but a quick scan of Hampsten’s bike reveals several other weight-saving features — like the titanium-framed saddle; the Specialty Racing Products titanium bolts and screws throughout his bike; and titanium quick-release wheel skewers.

With such an emphasis on creating the lightest bike possible, surely starting with a Columbus TSX-tubed Eddy Merckx steel frame doesn’t make much sense? Why not use a carbon-fiber or titanium frameset? Hampsten’s answer was: “I like the responsiveness of steel. All these other frame materials — titanium, carbon fiber, aluminum — can’t match the feel of steel. I like the TSX frame. It may not be as light as the other materials, but it’s no heavyweight, either.”

Carrying excess weight is always on the minds of the maillot jaune contenders during the Tour’s mountain stages, and this year was no exception. Usually the first thing to go is the combination brake-gear levers. For the mountain stages, Miguel Indurain discarded his bike fitted with Campagnolo’s Ergopower levers and Delta brakes, preferring to use one fitted with downtube shifters and the ever-popular Campagnolo Cobalto caliper brakes.

As for King of the Mountains champion Claudio Chiappucci (pictured above), he started his amazing break to Sestriere on a bike fitted with Ergopower levers — but just prior to his stage-winning solo attack at the base of the Col de l’Iseran, he changed to his climbing bike. The difference between the two bikes is more psychological than anything else: Both are made of Columbus EL oversized tubing, and both make use of titanium quick-release wheel skewers, titanium-framed saddles and Campagnolo Cobalto caliper brakes. In fact, the only major difference between Chiappucci’s two bikes is that his climbing bike is not fitted with Ergo levers, but downtube shifters.

In contrast, the 1989 Alpe d’Huez winner Gert-Jan Theunisse broke completely from the setup he used just prior to the Tour de France. Instead of his TVM team-issue Columbus steel-tubed Zullo frame, the Dutch climber rode a TVT carbon-fiber bike — fitted with Shimano’s STI levers. “I’ve changed to using the STI levers because they’re convenient,” Theunisse stated. “That extra weight is not too significant.”

Not using STI, once more was Bugno — as well as Gatorade teammate Laurent Fignon. They used regular downtube shifters. . .and both rode mystery carbon-fiber frames for the mountains. The frames has Bianchi stamped on the bottom-bracket, but it’s believed they were made by Alan.

One problem that most riders experience in the mountain stages is dropping the chain from the inside of the small chainring — which is often unpreventable by adjusting the derailleur’s retaining screws because of the large difference in chainring size. As a result, PDM rider Raul Alcala uses a small plastic device, called the Third Eye Chain Watcher. Attached to the seat tube, adjacent to his 39-53 chainwheel combination, the device prevents the chain from dropping when shifting to the small ring.