Very few attempt all three Grand Tours in one season. Professional cyclists are, of course, paid to ride their bikes for a living, but why on earth would you put yourself through that?
We put that question to Adam Hansen, the Lotto-Soudal rider who has finished ten Grand Tours in a row: every single one since the 2011 Vuelta a España.
“I always wanted to try it,” he says. “In 2009, my team, HTC-Columbia, forgot to put their nomination in for the Vuelta, and that’s why we didn’t do it. Then I moved to Lotto and in 2012, after doing the Giro and Tour, I asked to do the Vuelta.
“The sports director thought I was joking and didn’t put my name down. I saw the 14 guys on the long list, and said: ‘Seriously, I like doing them, I’d like to try three Grand Tours in a year.’
“I did it and it was a good year. I like my time at home and when you do the three Grand Tours, they give you a lot of rest, so I could go away from a Grand Tour back home and have a snooze for a month.
“After the first year, I thought it would be nice to keep it up. I did it a second year and ended up doing the third year. The team’s happy with me doing this type of programme, and I’m happy.
“I decided after the second year that I wanted to keep doing it until… I don’t know, till I retire, maybe.”
Adam Hansen's tired legs get some TLC. photo: Offside/L'Equipe
The Australian is racing the 2015 Giro, and if he completes the Tour and Vuelta this season too, he will equal Marino Lejaretta’s record of finishing all three Grand Tours between 1987 and 1991.
But Hansen isn’t doing this to set records. He relishes the breakaway opportunities given to a decent all-rounder like him in a three-week race.
“It’s more of a trip. I like the totally different style of racing, how you can go to a Grand Tour: you have a sprinter, the GC guy, the domestiques – they all have their goals. And then you have these odd days where it’s really a lottery: at least five stages in a Grand Tour where anybody has a chance of winning.”
Hansen has proven that. The Czech Republic-based rider claimed a Giro d’Italia breakaway win in the rain in 2013, then had another escape to victory at the 2014 Vuelta. He is a Tour stage away from joining the select band of riders to win stages in all three Grand Tours.
Anatomy of a breakaway
“You get more freedom,” says Hansen. “It’s more about making the break of the day on these stages, because they are the ones that are going to win… There’s constant attacks and you’ve got to work out which teams and riders want to be in the break that day.
“It’s not a race against the peloton anymore, it’s a race against the guys in the breakaway and this doesn’t really happen anywhere except the Grand Tours … there’s so much opportunity.”
It comes down to knowing your peers in the peloton. And their motivation. “Every Grand Tour, you always have a scenario where a certain team has their main sponsor in a home town finish. If they don’t have a sprinter, you know that one guy will have to be in the break. They will close down everything: no matter what happens, they will be in the break.
“You have guys that have birthdays that day, Italians at the Giro, or from [the local] region: all these little notes get spoken about, I’m sure, in every team. There’s so many days where this happens in a Grand Tour.”
Hansen's lone win at the 2013 Giro d'Italia. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Has Hansen kept any souvenirs from his last ten Grand Tours?
“I have a race number from every single race I’ve ever done as a professional,” he says, laughing, then corrects himself. “I think I’m missing one because someone wanted my number at a Worlds and for some reason, I couldn’t say no.”
The hoarding extends beyond dossards. “I keep everything. I’ve got all the race books, all the profile cards. My girlfriend is like ‘why do you keep all this stuff?’ I go ‘I’ve got a place under the roof of the house, why can’t I?’ It annoys her, but it’s staying!
“There’s a very good chance I won’t use it, but I thought if I ever started up a coffee shop or a bike shop and I had one side that was just all race numbers with a bookshelf of every single book from the Giro, Tour and Vuelta, with details of all the stages, climbs and profiles, it’d be interesting.”
Hansen turns 34 on Monday, but there’s no sign of him settling down to opening that coffee shop any time soon. A more apt celebration for him would be spending the whole day in the breakaway.