The hour used to matter. We’re talking, of course, about the UCI Hour Record, whose previous holders included Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, and Eddy Merckx. There was a burst of interest in the 1990s, as Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree swapped records and bike innovations. But the UCI’s mismanagement and confusion over bike regulations led to years of neglect by cycling’s biggest names. Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka broke the record in 2005. Then nothing.
But the hour, which was first officially recognized in 1893, is back. A rule change in 2014 that allowed for the use of modern track bikes spurred a flurry of big-name attempts.
First up was the freshly retired Jens Voigt, who set the first record under the new rules on September 18, 2014. His 51.110-kilometer mark stood for about six weeks, until Matthias Brändle bettered it by 742 meters. Jack Bobridge had a go in January but fell short by 552 meters. Fellow Australian Rohan Dennis raised the bar on February 8 with a ride of 52.491 kilometers. Thomas Dekker and Gustav Larsson both failed in their attempts before Brit Alex Dowsett pushed the line out to 52.937 kilometers on May 2.
Part of the reason for the onslaught was that anyone who wanted to hold the record, however briefly, knew his best bet was to have a go before a certain Bradley Wiggins took to the track. As expected, Wiggins crushed them all on June 7, riding 54.526 kilometers at London’s Lee Valley Velodrome.
On the women’s side, American law professor Molly Shaffer Van Houweling established a new record of 46.273 kilometers in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on September 12.
There’s no question, then, that the hour is back. The only point of disagreement now is exactly how much it hurts, with Wiggins saying, “That’s the closest I’ll ever come to knowing what it’s like to have a baby” and Bobridge offering that it’s “the closest you can come to death without dying.”
Which is it, guys, life or death?