PEZ Bookshelf: My Hour By Bradley Wiggins
One of the great milestones of cycling has been the Hour Record, first set officially in 1893 by Henri Desgrange (yes, the same Henri who later founded the Tour de France) when he covered 35.325 kms at the Buffalo Velodrome in Paris. Desgrange admitted he was not particularly fast but wanted to set a mark to encourage others. And over the years there were many who took up the challenge, including Tour de France winners Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain. (Lucien Petit-Breton set his Hour Record two years before winning the 1907 Tour). Sir Bradley Wiggins was the most recent to join this select club and his book, “My Hour,” is perhaps the first detailed account to describe what it takes to set the record, a ride so hard that Eddy Merckx felt it shortened his career.
Sir Brad has always seemed like a loose cannon: a rider who seemed more comfortable on the track than on the road; given to strange public pronouncements; a fashion plate; a cyclist with a beard (sometimes) and tattoos. But in “My Hour” he shows himself not only to be a consummate professional in terms of his preparation for the job at hand but also someone who deeply respects the history and traditions of professional cycling and the accomplishments of its greatest riders.
The book begins with a surprisingly lengthy and quite candid introduction by Chris Boardman, who has held the Hour Record in different forms. The difficulty with the record is that as technology has improved, riders have used it to their benefit and it became something less of a test of an individual’s strength and resolution. The result was that the UCI, in its typically hamfisted style, decreed that all the records set after Eddy Merckx’s record of 49.431 kms in 1972 would fall into a “Best Human Effort” category rather than the classic Hour Record, so records set by Francesco Moser, Graeme Obree and others using new technology or aero positions would have an asterisk beside them. A new category, the Athlete’s Hour, was opened in 2000 for cyclists who would be basically using the same equipment as Merckx did three decades earlier and the best anyone could do with that was 49.7 kms, only a hair over the Cannibal’s old record.
Finally, everything changed in 2014 when the UCI instituted a new Unified Hour Record, which allows competitors to use modern track bicycles with aero bars. As a parting retirement gift, Jens Voigt was the first to set a record as an encouragement to others. His 51.110 kms was subsequently eclipsed three times and when Sir Brad decided to try for the record it stood at 52.937 kms, set by Alex Dowsett at the Manchester velodrome on May 2, 2015. A month later it would be Wiggins’ time.
“My Hour,” which is nicely illustrated, has short chapters interspersed throughout the book devoted to Wiggins’ cycling heroes, all of them Hour Record holders. These include Obree, Merckx, Rominger, Moser, Coppi, Ritter, Boardman, Indurain, and Ercole Baldini, an interesting and varied cast. But the most novel part of “My Hour” revolves around training and the actual thought processes during the attempt itself.
Surprisingly, most of the previous Hour Record holders did not actually train specifically for the event. In some cases, they had finished a big race somewhere and just “gave it a go.” Tony Rominger had so little experience on a track that he fell off while practicing. But Wiggins, holder of eight Olympic medals and 12 World Championship medals—all on the track except for his Olympic Time Trial victory in London, a week after winning the Tour de France—was methodical in his training and no efforts were spared in terms of equipment.
His Pinarello Bolide, a track version of the road bicycle, was optimized for aerodynamics by Pinarello and Jaguar, with aero efficiency 7.5% better than the road version. The bike used a special Shimano Dura-Ace chain designed for reduced friction, the development costs of which were an astonishing £6,000! The handlebars were the most high-tech feature, being 3D printed from titanium.
The record attempt, held on June 7, 2015, in the Lee Valley Velodrome in London (built originally for the 2012 Olympic Games) was a brilliant media event, with the stands sold-out to their full 6,000 seat capacity and live television coverage transmitted around the world. Wiggins wanted it to be an occasion and the signage, the announcer, the gold shoes and helmet, the celebrities present (including Miguel Indurain himself), and the beautiful bicycle were all successful attempts to build up the image of cycling as something exciting and even, that particular day, something historic.
As a professional cyclist, Wiggins was fully aware of what he was capable of physically and his analysis of what he needed to do for the attempt was calm and rational. He was aiming not at Dowsett’s record, which he was fully confident he could exceed, but maybe even Boardman’s 56.375 kms Best Human Effort set in 1996, or Rominger’s second record of 55.291 kms set in the same category.
We learn about the technique required, the ability to be absolutely consistent for the full hour, and the extreme importance of air pressure and temperature. We learn that the ideal temperature of 27C could not happen due to the presence of all those cheering spectators and their warm bodies. On the other hand, the air pressure was higher than wanted but with the set date there was nothing that could be done about that. Putting these factors aside, what really matters in the Hour Record is mental strength and the ability to just keep on keeping on. The first half hour seemed to have been mechanical somehow and in the second half the pain begins to creep in and intrude. Not every good time triallist can go for an hour without changing position on the bike or without any place to pause and recover briefly. Wiggins kept dividing up the time mentally: “30 minutes to go—hang on for another 10, then it will only be 20” and at the end the record was his, with Rapha tailors in the velodrome ironing the numbers on his new jersey: 54.526 kms.
“My Hour” is a gorgeous book, not only dignified by excellent photographs but also a clear and thoughtful text. We learn more about Sir Bradley Wiggins as a person. He is someone who wants to try new things, who seeks to challenge himself but understands his strengths and limits and has learned from his experiences. A keen family man, he nonetheless sees cycling as far more than a way to earn his living. His love for the lore of the sport, his admiration of those who came before, and his pure joy at having reached that pantheon of Tour de France winners is evident throughout this lovely book.
by Sir Bradley Wiggins, with an introduction by Chris Boardman
176 pp., hardcover, profusely illustrated
Yellow Jersey Press, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: £20.00/C$42.95.
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When not considering which tattoos might make his time trialling easier, Leslie Reissner may be found polishing his golden helmet at www.tindonkey.com