This photo essay was initially published in July of 2016.
When Adam Hansen crashed on the second stage of the 2015 Tour de France and dislocated his left shoulder, the same shoulder he’d dislocated less than three weeks prior, he sent a Tweet out to the world. “Was told its going to be the most painful 3 weeks 4 me,” it said. “I eat pain for breakfast. Bring it on!”
Hansen (Lotto – Soudal) was two days into his 12th consecutive grand tour, a run that stretches back to the 2011 Vuelta a España. The injury, and his reaction to it, illustrated the attitude that has pushed Hansen through every available three-week race for half a decade. He’s stubborn. His pain tolerance is through the roof. He went on to finish that Tour, dislocated shoulder be damned.
Two months later he finished the Vuelta a España, his 13th. In May, Hansen finished the Giro, setting the all-time record for grand tour finishes at 14. He set the mark despite suffering another crash and shoulder injury.
His nickname has now changed to “Mr. Grand Tour.” The consummate domestique has found his way into the record books.
To put this in perspective, 14 grand tours equates to 294 stages, almost an entire year of racing. Each stage has an average length of just less than 200 kilometers, meaning Hansen has ridden 35,000 grand tour race kilometers. Across all that distance, he’s climbed 1,960,000 feet. That’s 593 times up Alpe d’Huez. Lay those vertical feet out flat and Hansen climbed from New York City to Akron, Ohio.
What leads a man to do this to himself? Most WorldTour-level bike racers compete in a single grand tour each year, perhaps two if they’re feeling plucky. We often assume that Hansen has some great desire to place himself in the record books.
“I never had this as a goal to begin with,” Hansen says. “And the worst thing about the streak is that I miss out on so many races. I feel like I’m trapped by it and that I sort of have to keep going.”
Hansen, 35, clarified that he does indeed love the grand tours. “When I really think about it, I don’t believe there is another rider that wants to be at the Giro more than me,” he said in early May. But there’s no question that he sometimes wishes he could race something else in May, July, or September.
The overarching question is still ‘why?’ As a domestique, Hansen lives to be in the service of others. At the Giro, he was part of André Greipel’s leadout train as the German smashed his way three stage victories. But Hansen has taken his own chances, too. He’s a breakaway artist, winning stage 19 of the 2014 Vuelta a España and stage 7 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia. Both were solo efforts. Chances at victory, however slim, are a powerful incentive.
But the occasional stage win doesn’t keep a rider coming back, race after race. It requires something more. Asked why, his answer is simple. “You have to be very determined. And I guess you have to love it.”
Hansen has the record, but to push it out of reach he needs to keep riding. That means another Tour de France in July, another Vuelta come August. He’s approaching a full year inside the mayhem of grand tours (he’ll reach 365 successive grand tour race days at the Giro next year).
As of now, there’s no end in sight. Barring race-ending injury, Hansen has no plans to stop his grand tour run, the likes of which we may never see again.
Hansen doesn’t just ride the grand tours, he is an essential part of Greipel’s lead-out train, helping the German to three stage wins in the 2016 Giro.
Photo by Tim De Waele
Canon EOS-1Dx; 70-200mm f/2.8 lens; 1/500 sec. at f/6.3; ISO 400
Hansen celebrates a stage victory with André Greipel, who claimed three total in the 2016 Giro.
Photo by Tim De Waele
Canon EOS 5D Mark III; 16-35mm f/4 lens; 1/2000 sec. at f/6.3; ISO 800
After winning stage 5, André Greipel sings “Happy Birthday” to Adam as the team celebrates with prosecco. Hansen is on a dairy-free diet, so there was no birthday cake.
Canon EOS-1Dx; 35mm f/1.4 lens; 1/200 sec. at f/1.6; ISO 2500
Hansen is considered a kind of MacGyver among his teammates and staff, who come to him with broken phones, issues with their computers, and other issues during races. He travels with his “tech kit,” which includes miscellaneous cables, data cards, a spare phone for use as a hotspot, a satellite phone, adaptors, sewing kit, needles, various connectors, tape, USB drives, a lighter, bubble gum, and Velcro, among other things.
Canon EOS-1Dx; 16-35mm f/2.8 lens; 1/400 sec. at f/2.8; ISO 6400
Hansen was a computer programmer before he became a professional cyclist, and currently writes code for the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA). During one rest day, he spent hours on a conference call to work with the rider’s union on developing the software.
Canon EOS-1Dx; 50mm f/1.2 lens; 1/800 sec. at f/1.2; ISO 200
Hansen crafts his own carbon fiber shoes based on molds of his feet, painting each pair by hand. He has also developed the unique cleat hardware and binding system. The U95 model (which retails for 2,000-2,500 euro) is currently sold out on his website, hanseeno.com.
Canon EOS-1Dx; 35mm f/1.4 lens; 1/2500 sec. at f/1.8; ISO 100