I awoke early this morning. As a result I watched Jack Bobridge take on the hour record. The event is experiencing a spectacular resurgence with most of the fastest men on wheels lining up a tilt at some point this year. For years the event lay dormant, the heady days of Boardman vs Obree seemed consigned to the archive, a series of dusty VHS transfers on youtube the only reminders of the struggle. The event was kiboshed by a rule change limiting all attempts to the ‘athlete’s record’, using the same equipment as Eddy Merckx in 1972.
In an era where technological change and science are the driving forces in improvement, it proved an anachronism. Brian Cookson tore up the rule book, opening it up to technological innovation and in effect luring in the big bike companies who now see it as both useful R+D and a raunchy shop window for their new bongo weapons.
Watching someone ride for exactly one hour in circles should be one of the more boring spectator sports; to be filed next to ‘golf’ in the pantheon of crappy crap things done by crap people. However, it somehow transcends the rhythmic, soporific loops to become a narrative event. Everyone is aware of the record, the time gaps are assessed and checked and reinforced and reminded, the velodrome goes increasingly more batshit crazy and the souplesse of the rider, so delicately tuned over the first 30 minutes, unravels like a loose thread pulled from a hand knit jumper. The more the lap times drift out, the harder it becomes to rein them back in, the crowd sense an effort slipping away and implore the lone rider to greater heights in the battle against the clock. It’s a knife edge of total accomplishment and complete failure. There is no second place in the hour record; you make it or you don’t. And if you miss out, it’s measurable in metres. Boardman beat Merckx’ 1972 record by 10 metres. Bobridge missed out by 500 metres, fading at the end.
“It’s by far the hardest I’ve ever done and the hardest thing I’ll ever do I think. 20 minutes in I think it sunk in what was happening and what was about to happen. 20 minutes, there is nowhere to go. You have to keep going. It was just brutal, it was brutal the whole time. There was nothing nice about anything.”
In the spirit of useless comparison; I reckon at the peak of my form I might just be able to squeak in a shade under 47km. This is based on my peak 25 mile time and a friend’s Military hour record. Right now, I’d be lucky to knock out a 25 minute 10. Next up will be Rohan Dennis on Feb 8, then Alex Dowsett, if/once he’s recovered from his unlucky break, with Dame Sarah Storey contesting the women’s record in around 3 weeks time. Later on the year it’s likely that the big guns will roll out, with Cancellara, Wiggins and Martin all rumoured to be attacking time by riding in tight circles on siberian pine. It’s an exciting prospect.