Andrew Hampsten, the first American ever to win the Tour of Italy, is looking ahead to the next important engagement on the cycling tour.

"The next important objective is the Tour (f France)," he said Sunday."I will have to prepare well for it, but I feel optimistic."Two years ago, the 26-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native finished fourth in the Tour of France, which was won by fellow American Greg LeMond.

Hampsten, who started competing at age 14, won the 21-stage race by sheer determination.

His uphill climbing ability, which he developed during his rigorous winter training sessions in the Rocky Mountains near his residence in Boulder, Colo., pulled him through in a race often plagued by rain, snow, and high winds.

Hampsten took the lead in the 3,631-kilometer race one week ago in the 14th stage, which traveled through the Alpine mountains.

A few cyclists - nearly frozen from the bitter cold - collapsed at the finish line of that race.

Hampsten used his uphill climbing skills to increase his lead to as much as two minutes and five seconds on Thursday in the 18th stage of the 21-stage competiton.

That proved to be more than enough to hold as his closest challenger, Erik Breukink, who finished 1:43 behind.