Who knew that watching a bloke ride 200 times around a 250 metre track would be so compelling?

The Hour Record, until a few years ago,?was one of the great and most prestigious titles in cycling. True legends like Fausto Coppi and Jacques Anquetil are prior holders before Eddy Merckx put the record out of reach of mortals in 1972. His record fell in 1984 when Francesco Moser used disc wheels to beat Merckx’s mark. There followed a technological arms race culminating in the incredible duals between Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree in the 90’s. Brief incursions by Indurain and Rominger were topped by Boardman again in ’96 before the UCI tried to turn bike time to Merckx’s record by outlawing technology. This led to Boardman’s epic attempt at the record in 2000 when, despite all the huge improvements in training and understanding of human physiology, Boardman could only add a scant 10 metres to Merckx’s record. We’ll ignore the 2005 mark set by Andrej Sosenka as his two failed dope tests fatally holed the credibility of his record below the waterline.

Everyone knew that if Boardman, by far the best time triallist of his generation, could only beat Merckx by 10 metres then the record was effectively out of reach, and so nobody bothered to attempt it. The UCI finally realised that the modern stars of cycling, and more importantly, the bike manufacturers and sponsors weren’t interested in a record set on 40 year old bikes, so they changed the rules again to allow riders to use modern track bikes. This has opened the floodgates for a series of attempts. Jens Voigt was the first, and set a new benchmark at 51.110km on the last ride of his professional career last September. Since then, the record has been broken by Mattias Br?ndle and Rohan Dennis with 3 failed attempts as well. Today’s ride by Alex Dowsett will be seen by many as the hors d’oeuvre before Sir Bradley Wiggins makes his ride on 7th June. If the UCI wanted to put new life into the record they have certainly succeeded.

The Wikipedia page on The Hour

The Perfect Hour

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the velodrome. The British rider, Alex Dowsett, of the Spanish Movistar team would have to ride around the track some 210 times to beat the record. The arena was about half full, but clearly everyone there was going to give their all in support of Alex’s attempt so the crowd noise, the load PA and the heat (boy was it hot) combined to create a pressure cooker atmosphere from the off. Alex was riding the road bike equivalent of a 55×12 gear – an absolutely massive gear that most people wouldn’t be able to turn once, let alone keep spinning for a whole hour. Yet for the first half hour he smoothly reeled off lap after lap maintaining nearly perfect form. His head remained still, his back flat, his near perfect form belying the effort he was making. It was mesmerising. At the halfway point he was almost 10 seconds behind the record. At 40 minutes we realised we were watching a human and not a robot as he raised himself out of his saddle for about 3 pedal revs to ease the pressure on his back. And then he put the hammer down and started to claw back the deficit. With about 8 minutes to go I tweeted:

The crowd lifted the roof off the veleodrome and from then to the finish he was roared home. He had timed his effort perfectly and it was only in the last few laps that we started to see some shoulder movement, a few small nods of the head to betray the extreme violence of the effort that he was putting in.

With 5 miutes to go he was nearly a lap ahead of schedule, and by the time the hour was up he had put 446 metres on to Rohan Dennis’ mark and had covered 211 laps of the velodrome. We had witnessed a remarkable new world record.

What many don’t realise about this record is that Dowsett is thought to be the only elite athlete in world sport who suffers from haemophilia. This rare and dangerous condition which stops his blood from clotting means that crashing becomes a very risky business. Until relatively recently, haemophiliacs were advised not to take part in sport at all, but this has only spurred him on. Despite breaking his collarbone in February, delaying his hour attempt, it seems that he wasn’t about to let a small thing like that get in his way. His ride was motivated by his desire to raise awareness of the condition and his Little Bleeders charitable foundation.

An Hour Attempt is a rare thing and it was a surprisingly emotional event to witness. This is right up there for me with watching Wiggo and co win gold medals at the World Championships in Manchester back in 2007. If you get the chance to see one, take it in a flash.