A Little Told Tale: The Women’s Hour

The Hour record has been on everyone’s lips recently. When the UCI created the Unified Hour, Jensie put himself forwards as a guinea pig, and now Sir Bradley Wiggins has reportedly vowed to step up and ride the velodrome for a painful 60 minutes.

I’ve been enthralled by The Hour for years, since I read Michael Hutchinsons book of the same title – but I’ve never, not once, wondered about the women’s record (until I settled down to write about that very fact).

In fact, I assumed the silence meant no woman had ever set an Hour record. Crazy as that may seem, having read reams of content on the men’s attempts, and never heard a single whisper of the women’s stories, it’s not a completely unreasonable assumption.

The Women of the Hour

The Women’s UCI Unified Hour Record belongs to  Leontien Zijlaard – she rode 46.065km in 2003. Hers is also the Best Hour Record, whilst the Best Human Effort title sits on the mantle of Jeannie Longo, who rode just over 48km in 1996.

Zijlaard is a Dutch Cyclist who retired in 2004. She’s now married to a fellow Track Cyclist, and was Dutch Sportswoman of the Year until the worthy Edith van Dijk took her place in 2004.

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Crossing disciplines, much like present Queen of Cycling, Vos, Leontiun snatched up Olympic Gold Medals in road cycling, track cycling and time trialling, and won the Tour Féminin twice.

Like legend of the Hour, and manic depressive, Obree – Leontiun Zijlaard wasn’t without her mental struggles, and she took years out of competition from 1994 to recover from anorexia.

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Leoutin took the record from Jeannie Longo – a 59 time French National Champion and 13 time World Champion.

Jeannie features in the list of athletes who have competed in the most Olympic games, gaining 8 medal over a 24 year stint, and she was still competing to be the National Time Trial Champion in 2011.

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Both Zijlaard and Longo made attempts at the Hour in 2000, and then Zijlaard put in her current record holding attempt in 2003.

As Chris Boardman stated to Cycling Weekly – Hour records are like buses – they come in bursts as riders grapple with one another – ping ponging back and forwards.

Like Obree and Boardman, there was Zijlaard and Longo. Perhaps in the future we’ll have Wiggins and Martin.

Who will take the Hour forward for women?

The high profile men’s Hour record attempt from Jensie has spurned enquiries over whose next – Jens himself called upon Wiggins, Cancellara and Tony Martin in his post ride conference.

Thus far, no women have put themselves forwards – that I am aware of.

The current record is 46.065km – that’s 28.62 miles, in one hour on a velodrome, with any bike that adheres to the UCI standards for an endurance track event – TT bars, disc wheels and all.

Since British Cycling failed to send a female athlete to race the UCI World TIme Trial Champs, you’d be forgiven for thinking we had no available competitors.  They’ve explained the decision with the comment:  “We have chosen not to enter anyone into the elite women’s time trial event this year as we don’t believe we have a contender for a medal and we are obliged to use our resources where we have the best chance of success.”

Previous British Time Trial specialist, and 2014 National Champ, Emma Pooley is now focusing on Triathlon and long distance running, so we can’t expect an attempt from her any time soon.

Sarah Storey has been suggested as one of the riders BC should have considered for the UCI champs. I watched Storey take the CTT Time Trial Champs 50 and 25 mile titles recently, but on the high profile end of the scale she walked away with 4 Gold’s at the 2012 Olympics for the women’s individual C5 pursuit, Time Trial C4–5 500m, Individual Road Time Trial C5 and Individual Road Race C4–5.

It seems sensible to look at the most recent ITU Time Trial Champion, Lisa Brennaur of Germany – and having competed on the track as part of the Persuit team in the 2012 Olympics, she’s no alien to the boards.

At 26, she was still in shock after the victory, and reportedly told BBC Sport: “I’m overwhelmed and I need some time to know this is reality.”

Eighteen seconds down on her was Anna Solovey of Ukraine, and third in line was the USA’s Evelyn Stevens – maybe these strong contenders against the clock in the Time Trial could take on the very long 60 minutes.

Any of these rides, I expect, could have a pop at 28.82miles. Maybe it’ll be one of them – maybe someone completely different – regardless, I’m hoping it happens soon. 

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