The Hour: Proof even pro cyclists get nervous

On Thursday, we watched a sporting event come back to life.

Like a pink lipped Disney Princess begging to be revived, The Hour has been lying dormant since 2005. Since that attempt was a stand alone ride completed by a known doper, then we can call the real last performance one of 2000 – made by Chris Boardman.

The mythical Hour Record was thrust into a coma when the UCI decided all competitors must compete on a bike such as that ridden by Eddy Merckx in 1972, to be considered an Hour Record holder. ‘Modern’ bike attempts where renamed ‘Best Human Effort’ – which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

The rule change halted the battle between Obree and Boardman that had caught the public’s attention and had thousands glued to TV screens watching a human hamster circle a velodrome for 60 minutes.

The history of The Hour is fascinating – and I wrote about it on Thursday here for Evans Cycles – I’m not mad keen on writing it all again.

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Total Respect

What I do find fascinating is the respect with which The Hour is held.

Previous riders have probably contributed to this. Merckx tried the effort only once, and said: “The pain was very, very, very significant. The Hour is a permanent, total, intense effort, which can’t be compared to anything else.”

Obree got caught in a battle with Boardman and made repeated efforts. Admittedly, he’s got his own relationship with pain, but he told us the suffering made it what it is:  “But that is why it is so beautiful, because it is so hard, because it is so debilitating.”

Bringing The Hour to ‘mortal’ level, when a clubmate of mine attempted The Diabetic Hour, I think it’s fair to say he suffered a less positive relationship with the bike for some months after. The effort was an immense achievement, and he’s back in love with the bike again now, but I doubt he’ll ever forget those 60 minutes.

Every athlete who has ever stepped up and ridden The Hour has acknowledged that it was one of the most, if not the most, mentally and physically challenging events they’d ever ridden. And it lasts only 60 minutes.

The Jensie conservative

Even The Jensie, of Shut up Legs, was reserved and conservative in his approach and pre-ride interviews.

He said carefully that he was aiming for ’50-something-kilomitres’ and stressed the need to control the effort: “I’m going to do the first 30 minutes at a controlled speed, let’s say 50.5 or 50.4 kilometres per hour, and then we can see how much I can give to finish it off.”

Jens suggested he’d expect to ride at 370 watts.

The bike was adorned with encouraging messages to keep him going. If he’d designed it himself, some of those mantras might have seemed cocky, but as a product of Trek, the phrases seem more like attempts to fill a nervous man with confidence. It’s not often Mr ‘Drops Every Rider In Sight’ seems nervous, is it?

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In the end Jens rode 51.115km, at 400 watts.

It is rare that you hear pro cyclists underestimating their abilities before an event. That’s a tactic people use when they’re concerned about their ability to perform. I suppose The Hour is one big mystery – it’s often a once in a lifetime effort, ridden at the end of a career – and not something the rider can predict their tolerance to beforehand.

The test rat

Voigt’s attempt has been said to be the likely instigator for more Hour attempts. A bit like a [very legendary and well respected] laboratory test rat – he was self selected to dip a toe in the water and see how much The Hour hurt.

Jensie knew what he was doing. During his post ride conference, Voigt called upon the big TTers of the pro peloton, Wiggins, Martin and Cancellara, saying: “OK, boys, it’s up to you. Give it to me.”

Wiggins, Martin and Cancellara are the big hitters in Time Trialling. Voigt is a break-away specialist, and the Shut Up Legs hardman of cycling.

The 51km that Voigt completed bowled over the commentators – ideas that his record would be easily defeated by the golden trio were forgotten, but the specialist testers are expected to take a swing at the record eventually.

This could take around a year, though – most hour records are preceded by focused training, and all these athletes have other events to remember. That, and obviously sponsors and bike suppliers are going to want a big say in this – no one at Specialized wants the Shiv to under perform against the Speed Concept  – and so on.

It seems odd that elite time trial riders like these men should waver around the edge of the velodrome, waiting for a less specialist rider to make the attempt first – to set a bar for them. That implies a certain amount of nervousness about the enormity of the challenge, does it not?

Before Voigt attempt, Wiggins said: “I think it’s good for the sport that someone’s doing it. It was probably going to take someone a bit wacky to get up and go through that.”

Brian Cookson, president of the UCI acknowledged after the event the ‘service’ Voigt did for cycling when he signed himself up to be the new benchmark – saying: “We wanted to bring back the magic of the Hour, and Jens has done a great service to cycling tonight.”

The next few years are going to be exciting for The Hour, but lets none of us forget that it was The Jensie who kicked it all off.

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