The record for cycling the longest distance in one hour stood for 9 years until broken twice in 2014 and again in February 2015
We waited nine years for a rider to break the world hour record, and then two come along to shatter it within six weeks in the autumn 2014.
The challenge of cycling the furthest distance in an hour is widely recognised as one of the sport’s most testing trials of mental strength and stamina. The record had rested untroubled since 2005 until last autumn, when 43-year-old road rider Jens Voigt ended his heroic career by pushing the distance up to 51.11km in September. Only six weeks later, Austrian rider Matthias Brändle nudged the distance up to 51.85km. The record stood until 8 February 2015 when it was broken by 24-years-old Australian professional racing cyclist Rohan Dennis. He set a new hour record of 52.491 km, beating Matthias Brändle’s record by over 600 metres.
What has led to this sudden interest in breaking world hour record? The answer lies in the relaxation of the rules governing the type of bike that is allowed to be ridden for record attempts.
Back in 2000, the International Cycling Union (UCI), which oversees the record, retrospectively dominated that it only recognised records set on a bike similar to that ridden by the legendary Eddie Merckx when he raised the benchmark to 49.43km in an hour back in 1972. The Belgian rode a standard drop handlebar, steel-framed, wire-spoked bicycle, with no teardrop time trial helmet or aero bars to assist him slip through the air.
The UCI’s intention was to remove technology from the equation and establish a like-for-like comparison to find out who really was the greatest of all time (Merckx’s record stood from 1972 to 1984). Consequently, the record-breaking distances set by Chris Boardman (56.375km), Tony Rominger (55.29km) and Graeme Obree (52.17km) were not officially sanctioned by the UCI because they used bikes of unauthorised design and adopted unofficial ‘superman’ riding positions.
However, in May 2014 the UCI allowed some scope for the technical development of bikes by allowing record attempts on models that conform to current UCI track endurance guidelines. For this reason, aero bars, carbon fibre tubes and disc wheels are now part of the potential record-breaker’s armoury.
The UCI has not removed the efforts of Boardman, Obree and Indurain from the record books, but has asterisked their achievements with the phrase ‘best human effort’. This explains why the record set by Voigt and subsequently beaten by Brändle fall short of the staggering distance covered by Boardman.
Voigt’s place at the top of the podium lasted little more than a month, however, after IAM Cycling’s Brändle rode 700m further. Brändle, who won two stages at the Tour of Britain, maintained a 52km tempo for a long time, before slowing in the last quarter of an hour.
However, Brändle’s record also didn’t last long. In February 2015 the record was broken again by Australian cyclist Rohan Dennis, who set a new hour record of 52.491 km, beating Brändle’s record by over 600 metres.