11 Jun, 2015

Attacking the hour title

With trepidation in his eyes, Rob maps out his objective.

The universal-cycling-powers-that-be, le UCI, don’t always get it right. But when they do, the people listen. And sometimes the people, with chapeau in hand, applaud with vigour.

I can pinpoint the recent stirrings in Planet Cycling to two things:

(i) it’s cold in the northern hemisphere, and cycling minds have been tweaked from too much indoor cycling and insufficient ventilation; and

(ii) the Hour Record has been resurrected.

Every few years the Hour Record, like Everest, pokes its head above the clouds as the most sacred of cycling endeavours. How far can a solo rider go on a bike on the track in an hour?

The allure emanates from the simplicity of the challenge and everyone’s ability to comprehend the final number which is both the average speed and the distance. What hinges itself to the imagination is everyone’s perception of the suffering required to achieve the elusive number.

For a few unruly years during the 1990’s, the UCI had the Scottish and English Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman respectively taking on the challenge with their innovative and controversial bike positions. Obree’s praying mantis and Boardman’s Superman positions were soon outlawed leaving behind Boardman’s incredible 56.375 kilometres set in 1996 eventually to be pigeonholed under the category of Best Human Effort.

In 2014, the UCI in trying to wrestle back the Hour Record into the hands of the purists decided to unify the UCI Hour Record and Best Human Effort under one classification: The Hour Record. This downgraded the target for all contenders to a pedestrian average speed of 49.7000 kilometres per hour set by a Czech cyclist, disappointingly burdened with doping credentials. The record’s caveat was that all future contenders be permitted to use any bike permitted in endurance track events at the time of the attempt.

Enter Germany’s Jens Voigt. On the eve of his retirement, Voigt decided to give it a crack and nudged the record up to 51.110 kilometres riding a disc wheel painted like a stopwatch. This thankfully removed the previous stained record from the books and was the catalyst for several contenders throwing their hats into the ring. To date there have been three successful attempts and two failures.

The current record is 52.491 kilometres achieved by Australian, Rohan Dennis, in February of this year. The Dutch Leontien van Moorsel currently holds the women's hour record with a distance of 46.065km.

Whereas some of you may be wondering whether the first car you ever drove might be able to beat the current record of 52.491 kilometres - if it was pushed down a mineshaft - others may be thinking “I could hold that speed for 10 minutes. Certainly the women’s record if they gave my one of those track bikes. And a velodrome. And Jens’s black-and-white stopwatch disc wheel.” Only to be lowered to terra firma with the realisation that track bikes are too expensive and your city doesn’t have a velodrome.

But in such times of records and noble pursuits do we cyclists not embrace the challenge, dusted in panache and alacrity, and demand that it be attempted?

A slightly lowered barrier perhaps, something aligned with a well-levelled playing field. A barrier which accommodates non-professional cycling mortals (not you full-time roadies or ex-champions) and accepts that you may not own a time trial bike or have access to a velodrome. Rather, a barrier which understands that you may have access to a stationary bicycle or at least a gym which houses one. A stationary bike with an odometer.

And instead of the lunar Hour Record, what if we were to thumbsuck a decent number for the average cyclist to chase? An EveryCyclistHourRecord (ECHR™). A number 10 kilometres off the current hour record. 42 kilometres for men. 36 kilometres for women. No pesky decimal fractions required for us civilians.

The challenge would be simple:
• one hour
• stationary bike
• stationary start
• any position
• any resistance.

Consider the ECHR challenge set. Ladies and gentlemen start your engines. You are one hour away from achieving immortality.

Roberto Riccardi

Roberto Riccardi

Journalist |