As Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) rode into Rome on Sunday for the conclusion of the 2018 Giro d'Italia, the Australian was bringing to an end a record-breaking run that began in August 2011. Hansen has started and completed in a whopping 20 consecutive Grand Tours, more than any other rider.
It almost came to an end last season when he wasn't selected for the Vuelta a España, but an injury for Rafael Valls resulted in a late call-up. It gave him the chance to end his run on his own terms. In October, he announced the Giro d'Italia would be his last of the historic run, though he'd previously hoped that he could make it to 23 – which would have been the 2019 Giro d'Italia.
"It is a wonderful city, where I've come as a tourist several times,” Hansen told Gazzetta dello Sport on his arrival in Rome. "My maternal grandparents are from Piedmont, from the province of Cuneo. All roads lead to Rome. Maybe it was destiny that everything should end here, although at the beginning I had promised myself to get to 23 great races in a row. It's my idol's number, Michael Jordan. But the time has come to take off, after the Tour de Suisse I will take a break to better plan the last part of the season."
The Giro d'Italia organisers acknowledged Hansen's achievement, inviting him onto the podium in Rome and gifting him a present. The 37-year-old had to battle through illness to complete the race and set a benchmark that is unlikely to be beaten in a long time. The run has seen him complete 419 days of racing and, according to Gazzetta dello Sport, a massive 70,000 kilometres.
Most of those kilometres have been spent as a domestique for a range of different riders, including Tim Wellens, Andre Greipel and Jurgen van den Broeck. Hansen has taken two stage wins of his own, one at the 2013 Giro d'Italia and another at the 2014 Vuelta a España. It was only a stage of the Tour de France that has thus far eluded him.
"[They were] two different emotions," he said of his Grand Tour stage wins. "I could choose Pescara [as a tough moment] because it was a very difficult day between rain and falls. The weather for a cyclist is an important factor. The most challenging days were those at the Giro in the snow. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo in 2013, or the stage of the Stelvio in 2014.
"But what has just finished perhaps was the toughest Giro. Not so much for the route, rather for how we have raced it as riders. There was never a moment of boredom. My adventure lasted 20 Grand Tours; it was a wonderful journey. Unrepeatable."
Across the 20 Grand Tours, Hansen has seen an array of riders crowned overall champion, including Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins, Ryder Hesjedal, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali.
"The best I've seen is Froome, but the most spectacular, the most exciting, is Nibali," he said. "For a spectator he gives the maximum because he always tries. Even when he is not at the top, even when everything seems lost. From Vincenzo, you can expect anything."