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The Hour record,
One of the greatest ever records! This used to be a truly prestige’s achievement, yet it has also seemed to have passes in to the dusty records and is only ever thought about by the few and the mad.
For those of you who haven’t heard of this record then I am sorry because you have missed some truly epic battles to lay claim to this record.
The idea of this is very simple. You ride a bike around a track from a standing start and cover as much distance as possible in 1 hour…. That’s right just 60 minutes, that is only 3600 seconds of riding. It just about sounds easy. This is my favourite record in cycling, it is so simple and yet so hard!
Now for a little history,
The first recorded record was in 1876 when the American Frank Dodds rode 26.508 km (16.471 mi) on a penny-farthing. 26.5 km isn’t that far until you think about doing it on a Penny-farthing!
And from there the record crept up till 1914 to a distance of 44.247 by Oscar Egg.
At this point HPV’s became involved. HPV stands for Human Powered Vehicles or recumbent bikes. These do have some big advantages over “normal” bikes, yet they do deserve to have their own record and a incredible fast once at that. I will do a podcast on HPV, their hour record and Battle Mountain.
Back to bikes, up until 1972, all the big names tried this record, it was a really important thing to have on your list of results. Here are some of the big names that held this record. Giuseppe Olmo, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil.
Then in 1972 the Cannibal went for the record! On a standard track bike, spoked wheels and a huge motor…. Eddy Merckx made his record attempt in Mexico city (the track is at attitude) and rode himself once more into the history books setting the distance of 49.431 km. And I must say that is a dame long way in one hour on a normal steel track bike.
This record stood for 12 year! 12 years! Wow…. 12 years!
Merckx record was finally broken by the great Francesco Moser in 1984, yet this was also the start of the technogy war on the record. Moser rode 50.808 and then 4 days later 51.151km. All this was also done on the Mexico city track. Moser used a bike will bull horns and Disk wheels, this started to give him an aero dynamic advantage. It also started the talk about was technology racing or the rider!
Mosers record stood for 9 years! Moser and Merckx are 2 truly outstanding athletes and they did this at a time when everyone wanted this record.
Yet now comes what I believe is the most interesting few years of this Record. It all seems to start with Graeme Obree, (yes the last podcast got me thinking all about this record) A unique Scotsman, with a ingénues mind and a talent for riding.
Graeme was an unknown rider from Scotland and was very fast in local races. He also dreamed of the hour record. He didn’t have huge sponsors (or really any), His business a local bike shop was going under (from what I heard from Graeme because of a business partner doing the dirty on him). He also had a great idea on how to make a bike more aerodynamic, so he built it. It was famous that he used parts from a washing machine to build his bike. And it is true… well at least a bearing. He used the main bearing from a washing machine for the Bottom braket bearing, this was because he could build a bike with the pedals closer together.
Anyway, he was slowly getting ready for the record and the Famous British rider Chris Boardman announced he was going for it. On the wind tunnel tested carbon machine… The Lotus.
This made Graeme step up his effort and organised a track and go for the record. He rented the track for 24 hours and on 16th of July 1993 he made his attempt at the record and failed. Some of what follows I heard in a talk given by Graeme many years ago, so it is from the horses mouth and held in my memory, any part that is not exact I am sorry.
Graeme said that he would try again the following morning….. That’s right the following morning. Graeme had 2 choices for the night. 1 sleep well and wake up refreshed, yet stiff and the gas tank empty or 2. Wake up every couple of hours stretch, eat cornflakes and be a tired the next day. He chose option 2. And to make sure he got up he drank huge amounts of water because he knew the bladder is the best alarm clock in the world.
So he turned up at the track the next morning got on Old faithful (his self hand built bike) and rode himself to the world hour record. A distance of 51.596. In the talk I went to, When asked why he had got up and tried the record the next day Graeme replyed “Financal necessity. All his sponsors only paid out on success, and he was about to go under”!
Sadly this outstanding record only stood for 6 days and was beaten by just under 700m by Chris Boardman. Chris Boradman’s effort as huge and these 2 riders and rivals really set fire to the hour record.
Chris and Graeme raced each other in the Pursuit World Championships 1993 Graeme won, Chris in 1994 and Graeme again in 1995!
Graeme reclaimed the Hour record in April 1994 at a distance of 52.713 and later that year at the world Pursuit Championships were where the UCI really started changing rules moment by moment and they all seemed to be targeted at Graeme Obree, First his seat didn’t meet requirements when a couple of days before it did, so he cut it down, so it fitted the rules, that didn’t pass. So in the end he used a BMX seat from a kids bike. Once into the finals they UCI said that the Praying mantis position that Graeme had was illegal and his hands couldn’t touch his hands. Graeme tried not hold to this rule, yet was disqualified in what I believe is one of the dark moments in the UCI’s history. A side note here Moser did set the Veteran hour record using Graeme Obree’s praying mantis position. So this was not just a one man thing.
So Graeme went away and come up with the Superman position! Now this position would change the world! Even though other riders were using Funny bikes (smaller front wheel) and flash carbon fibre machines, still Graeme’s superman was faster on his old faithful.
After this 1995 world title everyone started to use the superman. And with it broke records, Pursuit records and of course the Hour record.
Graeme never held the hour record for long, at least this time it was more than 6 days, Step in 5 time tour de France winner Miguel Indurain. In September 1994 he lifted Obree’s distance by 327 metres to a grand distance of 53.040 km.
A month and a half later Indurain’s greatest rival Tony Rominger stepped up and posted 53.832 km. Yet even with this massive distance he wasn’t happy and know he could do more so a month later he was at it again and smashed his own record! Rominger’s new record was 55.291 km.
So in the space of a year and a half the record was broken 6 times! And lifted from 51.151 to 55.291. that may only be 4 km’s yet riding at that sort of speed for an hour is amazing!
Now the record had to wait for 2 year, And Chris Broadman was back… and ready to do some damage. Using the superman and every bit of go fast stuff he could he rode once again into the history books, covering 56.375 km.
What he didn’t know was this ride and the distance he set may never change. The UCI then declared Boardman’s effort was going to be called the “Best Human effort” and bikes would have to conform to new standards (or old standards depends how you see it). These are your bike has to be like Eddy’s bike, steel frame and spoked wheels, and all sorts of other stuff. You are only allowed to use the technology Eddy had. This to me was the death nail for the record, suddenly no company really wants to be involved as they cannot show off the latest go fast stuff and you cannot push the limits of thinking and design. True the event becomes more pure, the athlete against the clock, yet why not both records?
Now with the record back at Eddy Merckx’s 1972 distance 49.431 km. So in one sweep the UCI cleared away 25 years of amazing history! Good Guys UCI!
Now I had said early on at what an outstanding record this was! And Eddy Merckx to my mind is the best rider of all time, so to beat that record with no aerodynamic help would be massive. And in 2000 just such a person stepped on the track. A man that knows how to suffer and has held the hour record, that’s right Chris Boardman had another go and manages to break the record, yet only just…. In fact, it had to be worked out on count back and was by just 10 metres! Now the record was 49.441. so in 28 years we managed ten metres on Eddy. Wow…. Eddy you rock!
Now for me comes a very dark and sad event. On the 19th of July 2005 the record was broken by Ondřej Sosenka. I think it was great the record was broken, yet Sosenka had been suspected of doping, infact he was excluded from the 2001 peace race after failing a hematocrit test prior to the event. Then in 2008 testing positive, this calls into doubt (rightly or wrongly) his effort. The event also the breaking of the record went very much in noticed and it is a shame that such a super record has fallen away.
It is also an event you can’t just go a do, so riders who today could do it, have to choose between money and a record. What would you do?
Many people have announced they try for the record and some have tried and failed, other haven’t got that far. It is one I would love to try, yet the work and the pain involved is amazing, maybe one day…. Yet even the thought of riding at over 50km/h for an hour is madness and it will take away more talented rider than me to even come close. I think I could do the first record… But not on a Penny Farthing.
I have read that Fabian Cancellara is thinking about giving it a go, or some are saying he will do it after the spring classics. Man that would be great! There is even talk about Tony Martin going for it. And maybe just maybe one of these guys could break the record and reignite the spark of interest in the hour record. And just think of a back and forth like that of Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman! How fantastic would that be! It is an event so full of history and truly one of the hardest monuments in cycling.
I do have to ask why is it the UCI, seems hell bent on killing the ingenuity of man, and the evolution of the bicycle? So many of the awesome events seem to be slowly going. The hour record, the 100km team time trial, the 4km pursuit. Next cobble stones won’t be allowed. Yet for so long they turned a blind eye to so much.
I say let’s have both records, one for the guy that thinks he can and one for the guy with great legs and a lot of sport science behind him! Bring back the Lotus and the funny bikes and put the excitement back into something that is and should be so very awesome!
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