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Aguascalientes, Mexico - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - CAMPENAERTS Victor (BEL) of LOTTO SOUDAL pictured during his attempt to set a new UCI Hour Record timed by Tissot at the Velodromo Bicentenario in Aguascalientes on April 15, 2019 in Aguascalientes, Mexico, 15/04/2019 - photo JdM/PN/Cor Vos © 2019

The World Hour Record – History and Future

The Hour Record: With Belgian fast-man Victor Campenaerts setting a new World hour record in Mexico recently; Ed Hood has been listening to different opinions and has set out his thoughts on the ultimate solo venture. Previous records have been annulled or shelved due to technical reasons, so which is the real and true record?

New World record holder – Campenaerts

“Nobody is interested in The Hour, only English Rapha Boys because Campenaerts beat Wiggo’s distance.”

“Campenaerts ‘bottled it’ by going to Mexico, he should have gone at sea level, like Bradley did.”

“I’ve lost interest in the hour, it’s too complicated and expensive with having to go to Mexico.”

“Rominger still has the record, anyway!”

“But Boardman’s distance is the furthest?”

Just some of the less enthusiastic comments I’ve seen and heard since Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal and Belgium) rode so beautifully to 55.089 kilometres in Aguascalientes recently to break Sir Bradley Wiggins’ Hour Record by some two laps.

Bradley Wiggins in his UCI Hour Record attempt in 2015
Wiggins at sea-level

Taking the sound bites as they come; given the amount of social media traffic and worldwide media coverage, I think it’s not just the Paul Smith pattern sock wearers who are interested. Campenaerts Lotto Soudal manager, Marc Sergeant, former Belgian Professional Road Race Champion and a man who’s seen it all, said; “One of the absolute highlights in my career as a sports manager!”

Aguascalientes Velodrome

As for Mexico as a venue, it seems we’ve forgotten that it was 51 years ago when Ole Ritter successfully attacked the Hour Record there. The Dane maintains that reduced air resistance was not his prime motivation in choosing the venue, rather the fact that the world’s media was gathering there for the ’68 Olympic Games and his attempt would garner maximum coverage. And some four years later in 1972 Eddy Merckx chose the same venue for his successful attempt, as did Francesco Moser a dozen years later when he re-wrote the record book. But the thinner air of Mexico is no guarantee of success, witnessed by recent abortive bids by Messrs. Dekker and Beukeboom.

Dion Beukeboom

Ferdi Bracke

Further back in time there were other failures which generated huge cycling press interest at the time. In 1969, former Vuelta winner and World Professional Pursuit Champion, Ferdi Bracke (Peugeot and Belgium) piqued by Ritter’s breaking of his 1967 record set in Rome at 48.093 kilometres by some 560 metres decided he would head to Mexico to take back the Blue Riband of cycling from the Dane. Despite meticulous preparation and a super-light gem of a bicycle he failed, falling foul of not having allowed his body to fully acclimatise to altitude.

The Man – Eddy Merckx

Whilst Ritter spent time at altitude to adapt, Merckx was in and out of Mexico within days. The Belgian’s ‘commando’ approach has been questioned but the only response can be; ‘it didn’t seem to do Eddy any harm.’ The wisdom of the time, which I’ve yet to see debunked, is that one has to ‘do a Merckx’ and get in and out before the effects of the thin air exacts a physical and psychological toll – or stay for an extended period to allow full adaption.

Roy Schuiten watched by Peter Post

Another man to fall foul of this syndrome was Dutch TI Raleigh World Pursuit Champion, GP de Nations, Trofeo Baracchi and GP Lugano winner, Roy Schuiten who travelled to Mexico in search of the Merckx record in 1975. The timing of the attempt wasn’t right, Schuiten failed and he was never quite the same rider again. But an hour is an hour and the world is the world, including Milan, Bordeaux, Manchester, London, Mexico City and Aguascalientes. . .

Moser in Mexico

As for expense, it’s never going to be cheap to prepare for and attack on a record which has been held by the giants of the sport – Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Moser, Indurain. . .

Miguel indurain tijdens zijn werelduurrecordpoging op de baan in Bogota Colombia, foto Cor Vos ©
‘Big Mig’ in Bogota, Colombia

And whilst Wiggo went at sea level, little expense was spared to get every other aspect of his preparation spot on; let’s talk ‘chains’ for instance. Cycling Weekly magazine of the time tells us:

“Breaking the Hour Record calls for attention to every detail and this included the chain used on Bradley Wiggins’s bike, with lubricant manufacturer Muc-Off claiming that the total cost amounted to £6000. Muc-Off tested over 30 Shimano Dura-Ace chains to select the most efficient, before deep cleaning them in a sonic bath. Muc-Off’s team then applied a specially formulated lubricant treatment with military grade high pressure additives to reduce friction.”

Different size wheels

Now we’re talking ‘Suisse,’ – Toni Rominger, let’s ignore the fact that Doctor Ferrari was trackside with him for both rides and concede this point. Rominger went on an adapted, steel Colnago time trial machine with ITM ‘scaffold clamp’ tri-bars, the only aspect of his machine which doesn’t meet the criteria for current Hour Record machines is that the wheels are of different sizes.

The Obree inovations

But sooner or later someone will add the necessary lap to squeeze that elephant from the room. Boardman’s position – invented by Scotland’s maverick genius Graeme Obree when the UCi banned his ‘chest on the handlebars’ position – would take another five laps to exorcise at 56.375 kilometres, that will take a tad longer to achieve than Rominger’s distance of 55.291 kilometres. As for Boardman’s ride’s validity, some say that we should accept progress and it’s a ‘new way’ as far as position goes. And if someone wants to go for it now, using the same position, whilst it wouldn’t be the official Hour Record, it would definitely attract huge media interest.

Boardman in the Merckx style

On the subject of the ‘official’ Hour Record, some have criticised the UCi for their decision to scrap the ‘Absolute’ record – held by Boardman – and ‘Athletes’ hour records and have just one ‘Unified’ record; the first to go for it – Voigt – was always aiming at a low bar in terms of Oleg Sosenka’s freshly re-christened ‘Unified’ record of 49.700 kilometres – set on a ‘conventional’ machine in Moscow in 2005 – given the advantages the new road TT-esque position and bicycle design criteria afforded. But the UCi decision has generated huge fresh interest in the record with the Voigt, Brandle, Dennis, Dowsett, Wiggins and Campenaerts successful bids. Not to mention abortive bids by Bobridge, Dekker and Beukeboom.

Alex Dowsett covered 52.937 kilometres

Perhaps there should have been two records since 1984 when Moser rode to 51.151 on a low profile with inverted bars and double discs? Because just like Voigt breaking Sosenka’s record on a slippery Trek with double discs, Moser’s hardware bore little resemblance to Merckx’s. Should they have said the Merckx record remains as ‘conventional’ record and Moser’s is the first of a new ‘advanced machine’ record, into which the Obree, Indurain, Rominger and Boardman rides would all have fallen? The thought certainly generates plenty of points to argue over.

Moser tried a few different things

When all’s said and done, it takes a lot of courage to put yourself forward to break a record held by a cycling legend like Merckx, Moser or Wiggins – or by a beast of a man like Victor Campenaerts. Who can we look to expunge Swiss Toni and ‘Superman’ Boardman from the top of the spread sheets?

The new record by Victor Campenaerts

Here are three names to conjure with:
Mikkel Bjerg (Hagens Berman Axeon and Denmark)
has already ridden 53.73 kilometres on the Odense track, which is most definitely sea level, a feat he achieved last year at just 19 years-of-age. He may well be ‘recordman in waiting.’

Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb and The Netherlands) the ex-world time trial and Giro champion has little track experience but is big, strong, aero and approaching his prime at 28 years-of-age – but would his team allow him time to prepare with those Grand Tours out there to be won?

Mathieu Van Der Poel (Corendon-Circus and The Netherlands) Netherlands cyclo-cross, mountain bike and road champion; classic winner; World Cyclo-Cross Champion and a very ‘special’ young man – if he puts his mind to it, he could be a ‘man of the hour’ we’re sure.

But hey! For me, Ole Ritter is still the coolest.

Ole Ritter

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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