“Are you a geek or a nerd?”
As an opening gambit for an interview with someone you have never met before, this is, admittedly, a risky strategy, especially when there’s a six-foot-plus Australian sat across the table.
Adam Hansen doesn’t quite fit the bill, though, when you conjure up the classic cliché of an Aussie bloke in your head. He lives in the Czech Republic, for a start. He prefers a fine single malt whisky to a tinny of Fosters. He is softly spoken and thoughtful – not a hint of a “good on ya, mate”. And, considering the man from Queensland spends most of his working life in the great outdoors, he has a predilection for sitting in front of a computer designing software programmes.
He also holds the record for racing and finishing the most consecutive Grand Tours – a staggering 20 prior to giving this Tour a miss – which he must get tired of being asked about.
“Well I do a little,” he replies, to my roundabout way of shoehorning in the question. “It’s okay, but I think they forget a lot of other things. I keep going because I enjoy the Grand Tours, but I have won two stages in them, and that gets forgotten. It devalues those wins.”
It is, indeed, a shame for those two stage wins to be overshadowed. The first, at the 2013 Giro d’Italia, came on the road to Pescara in torrential rain, the day when Bradley Wiggins lost his descending head on a treacherous downhill and packed a few days later. Hansen kept his cool and stayed upright to finish alone while his fellow breakaway companions either dropped back or fell off.
His 2014 Vuelta win in Cangas do Marrazo was, if anything, even better. Slipping away with four kilometres remaining, Hansen outsmarted and outgunned the marauding sprinters to hit the line with five seconds in hand over the peloton.
Both wins were a result of those rare occasions when a worker bee like Hansen, usually busy keeping André Greipel out of the wind at Lotto-Soudal, gets his chance to shine – and takes it.
But we are not actually here to talk about bike racing per se. Back to the beginning. As nobody seems too sure which is which: Adam, are you a geek or a nerd?
“A bit of both. I was a programmer before I was a pro cyclist, specialising in database web applications before that. When I saw the problems on the logistics side of cycling teams, I wrote the programme for Lotto-Soudal. It’s almost the same thing with the CPA.”
The Cyclistes Professionnels Associés is the professional cyclists’ union, headed by Gianni Bugno. It is an umbrella organisation of eight national bodies (Hansen is currently president of the Australian association) formed in 1999 that acts as intermediary between riders, teams, the UCI and race organisers. Representatives meet on a quarterly basis to discuss the burning issues affecting the union’s members – currently peloton safety following a spate of race vehicle-related incidents last season, course design and improved security, and, of course, the seemingly never-ending disc brake conundrum.
In a famously dog-eat-dog vocation like professional cycling, a union may seem like an old-fashioned concept. Young men in their prime don’t tend to think too far ahead. Fire off a pithy Tweet and it’s job done, so far as they are concerned.
“That’s the sad thing about it,” Hansen agrees. “All the work we are doing now won’t be implemented in my career. The guys doing the work will be retired before these things come into effect, so the younger riders should be the ones to care.”
Hansen saw there were problems with the structures in place on attending his first meeting as Australian delegate: “I could see there was a communication nightmare and I thought I could fix that with some software – to communicate with the riders a lot better and make them aware of the situation. The CPA does a lot for the riders, but the riders don’t see this, and that’s a shame. They are angry when something goes wrong and they want help.
“But when the CPA goes to the riders asking about trivial things, they don’t care so much. They are not willing to put the effort in. So it’s about bringing both sides together and giving a better understanding of what’s going on.
“There is always a CPA delegate at the races, and before we relied on them to speak in person to the riders. Now we can see the numbers, which is important, because if they vote that something is unsafe at a race, then they can see that they all voted for it and the delegate must do something about it. And he knows exactly how to speak. Instead of going to all the hotels and trying to meet up with all the riders and understand their opinions, he can speak on their behalf.
“It is super-simple. They don’t have to log in. They are contacted by email, with a question with URL links. All they need to do is click on it, every vote is anonymous. We have had times in the past when there has been a problem, the CPA delegate will go to a team bus and pose a question: ‘The team time trial at the Vuelta. Is it dangerous? Do you want to neutralise it or do you want to race?’ And he is asking that question in front of the sport directors. It is hard for a rider to say ‘I don’t want to race in those conditions.’
“We know riders are a bit lazy and don’t want to be answering emails, so we give them easy options, just answering a question by ticking a box.”
CPA funding comes from a two per cent levy on prize money at WorldTour and Pro Continental races, plus an annual bequest from the UCI – around €320,000 in total. It is not a lot of budget to play with. The perception from the outside is that it is a toothless organisation. There is a major incident in a race; an email arrives from the CPA criticising the UCI or the race organisers; nothing happens…
Not so, Hansen explains. There are delicate negotiations going on backstage, such as the lengthy talks with the UCI based on feedback from CPA members on race security that began back in March and have just been implemented. “The CPA really does try its best for the riders,” Hansen says, “but that is hard to get across to them.”
There is also a solidarity fund, giving retiring riders a lump sum to aid retraining costs when their careers have ended. “It’s not much, but it’s a nice little gift to help start your second life after cycling,” he adds.
“Once I went to the first meeting and saw how it worked, I put my hand up to represent the Australian riders.”
It’s good to know that in this dog-eat-dog profession, there are guys like Adam Hansen prepared to step in and look out for their fellow riders, for all their sakes. As he said earlier, it will be the next generation of cyclists who will benefit from the work he and the CPA are doing. Let’s hope they appreciate it.
What about when he has finally hung up the wheels? “I love programming. I will definitely go back to that after cycling.”
For now, he’s off to ride another Grand Tour or three. Neither a geek nor a nerd. But a bloody good bloke. Good on ya.