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A Brief History of the ‘Hour Record’

Solicitors in London

News article published on: 11th May 2019

“That’s just one hell of a record. It’s the closest I’ll ever be to death without dying I think. I’m in that much pain, it’s funny. I don’t know what else to do but smile. I can’t even describe how much pain my glutes and quads are in. It’s by far the hardest I’ve ever done and the hardest thing I’ll ever do.”
Jack Bobridge, following his Hour Record attempt on 30 January 2015

In honour of Bradley Wiggins hour record attempt on 7th June, our cycle blogger looks at the origins of the record and the names which have held the record in recent and not so recent times.

What is the Hour Record?

The Hour Record is the record for the longest distance cycled in one hour; it is the ultimate test of a cyclist against the clock; it is an internal battle between mind and body; there is nowhere to hide and there is no second place. Now the record has come back into cycling’s collective consciousness, it is worth taking a look back to see where it has come.

The History

The concept is a simple one, yet the history of the record is anything but. Since its inception in the 1800s, the record has seen flurries of attempts followed by long dormant periods. It has been held by such cycling greats as Fausto Coppi – 7-time Grand Tour winner – in 1942, and Eddy Merckx – 5-time victor of the Tour de France – some 30 years later.

Obree versus Boardman

Before the recent spate of attempts, the previous highpoint of the record came in the early nighties, when Chris Boardman and maverick Graham Obree traded blows using increasingly inventive technologies and techniques.

Obree first broke the record in 1993, using the “praying mantis” riding position – his own personal invention. He failed with his initial attempt, but succeeded the following day, drinking pints of water to wake himself up during the night in order to stretch his muscles. Less than a week later, however, Boardman bettered the Scot by a huge 674 metres. Freshly-crowned as world pursuit champion, Obree hit back in 1994, regaining the record only to be surpassed once again by the then four-time Tour de France winner, Miguel Indurain.

The record had been broken four times in eight months, and the UCI were concerned. To stem the pace of technological change, they banned Obree’s position, restricting challengers to the equipment available at the time of Merckx’s attempt in the 1970s.

Only in 2014 did the UCI see fit to lift these restrictions, allowing modern track bikes and equipment to be used. Carbon fibre, time-trial helmets, and tri-spoke wheels were back in, and there were a plethora of riders willing to have a go.

Recent attempts

The first to attempt the Hour Record under the new rules was by charismatic, cycling legend, Jens Voigt. Unsurprisingly, with the benefit of modern technologies, he posted a new standard of 51.110km. Since then, the record has been broken by Austrian Matthias Brӓndle, Australian Rohan Dennis and, most recently, by 26-year-old Brit, Alex Dowsett.

Bradley Wiggins aims to surpass Dowsett’s 52.937km mark on 7 June 2015 as part of his preparation for Rio 2016, and the question on all cycling-enthusiasts’ lips is: will he do it? We’ll keep you posted!

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