Tadej Pogacar snatched victory from Alexey Lutsenko on Stage 5 at the UAE Tour.
“What there is is a bike, black line, a track, and a clock.” – Graeme Obree
“It’s incredibly risky, because there’s no second place. You either win – or you lose.” – Chris Boardman
Officially known as ‘The World Hour Record’ , it’s better known among aficionados as the Hour.
Though the Hour is still one of the few hallowed benchmarks in professional cycling, there was once a time when this record was challenged at fairly regular intervals, by the big names of the sport, bringing to it a romance and stature that has been missing in recent years.
That the Hour was seen as a test to be taken on only by the true strong men of the peloton as they neared the end of their careers tells you something of the difficulty of the task of riding absolutely flat out for a full 60 minutes.
On the 25th of October, 1972, the legendary Eddy Merckx set constructed Colnago bike. Such was the importance awarded the effort that Ernest Colnago himself flew to Mexico City to be Merckx’s mechanic, overseeing the bike’s preparation.
Merckx’s record saw many a rider come and have a bash at it, but it stood almost 12 years, until Francesco Moser toppled it in 1984, by over 1.5km.
Moser though was using bullhorn handlebar, steel airfoil tubing, disk wheels and skinsuit, while Merckx, riding in an earlier era, didn’t have access to such technologically advanced materials.
It is partly these advances in equipment that have led to the Hour Record losing some of its appeal, as detractors of recent attempts have criticised the use of anything other than a traditional steel frame and drop bars, as used by Merckx.
The most famous of the innovators were both British, Graeme Obree from Scotland and Chris Boardman from England.
Obree looked to the bike for his advantages, building his own machine from scrap metal to take the record on the 17th of July, 1993.
Boardman, though he had a state of the art bike, was renowned for employing a full team of bike boffins and training gurus, proving to be a few years ahead of his time in his approach.
Incredibly, he then took the Hour record just one week later, by a mere 274 meters (52.270km).
The UCI redefined an hour record set on any kind of upright bike, irrespective of equipment, as the UCI Best Human Effort, but the UCI Hour Record remains the true benchmark, and disallows time trial helmets, disc or tri-spoke wheels, aerodynamic bars and monocoque frames.
This record, held originally by Merckx, lasted from that Mexico ride in 1972 until 2000, when Boardman rode it and beat it by a slender 70 meters – putting into real perspective just how fast Merckx was.
In 2005 Ondrej Sosenka bettered that effort at 49.700m, but as a result of two positive doping tests in his career, the result is tarnished.
And so we come to Cancellara. If anyone can have a real go at Boardman’s – and Sosenka’s – times, it is the big Swiss. And in having a go he is reigniting the romance that once existed between the Hour and cycling.
“It’s for sure, this year,” his general manager Luca Guercilena said. “He has the hour record in his legs.
“We have two windows where he’ll have a peak in form, the two weeks after Paris-Roubaix or after the Tour de France,” Guercilena added.
If Cancellara is in a form similar to last year at Roubaix then he will have a real chance of taking the Hour, adding this illustrious record to his already stunning palmares.
And with it, he could entice other hard men from the pro ranks to get their wheels on the track.
Cancellara’s team is already in preparation for the attempt.
Twenty-five people – 15 from Trek bicycles, engineers and biomechanics, and 10 from the team – are working on the record,” Guercilena said. “We are trying to make the bike and wheels faster while staying in the UCI’s rules. You need time for this.”
And so modern technology should still give Cancellara an advantage, but little in relation to what materials are available for road and time trial bikes these days.
It is still, essentially, man against the clock, in a thrilling, compelling and pulsating battle.