It somehow only seems appropriate that the rules of The Hour record be benchmarked against the ride done by a rider who pretty much benchmarked the sport, Eddy Merckx. A blistering 30.175 miles in sixty minutes. A record that stood for 12 years until Francesco Moser beat it by 1.6 miles, the difference being Moser used disc wheels, bull-horn bars and an oval tubed frame, and ushered in the era of technology and aerodynamics. It was at this point the UCI decided to recognize the massive achievement that Merckx had accomplished on a “traditional” track bike and created two records, the UCI Hour, and The Best Human Effort record.
To what sounded like a very rare atmosphere Merckx made one of the sports great records to sound of polite clapping and the chants of “Eddy…Eddy…Eddy”. The shear effort that The Hour takes has humbled all those who have tried. On finishing his record breaking ride Merckx rolled into the center of the velodrome and into the arms of Ernesto Colnago and uttered “Basta (meaning enough, and remarkably close to bastard)… that’s the last time I’ll ever do the hour record. The pain was incredible… ‘. Coming from The Cannibal that is saying something. Although not really a surprise that it hurt as his preparation leading into it was a season where he won no less than fifty races, among them a fifth Milan-San Remo, a fourth Tour de France, a third Tour of Italy, a third Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a third Fleche Wallone, a second Tour of Lombardy. Not really the preparation you would expect.
It seemed the only way to beat Merckx’s record was with technology. Boardman and Obree both breaking it with both unusual and advanced bikes and positions. Merckx’s effort was later beaten by Chris Boardman on a traditional set-up by a painful 32.8ft, riding a 54 x 14 with a 160mm stem (above). The difference between the two rides comes down really to the first KM. Merckx started fast, Boardman was a little more conservative. For the next 45km they basically stayed the same. Boardman had a slight edge having Merckx’s time to beat in the final KM and was able to pull out a little extra to take the record. That record stood for another 5 years until Czech Ondrej Sosenka beat it by nearly a mile, literally, (0.707 of a mile, or 44795.5 inches) pushing a 54 X 13 gear. Unfortunately his incredible ride is somewhat tainted as he later twice tested positive for doping, although not on his record breaking ride.
So since Merckx set the benchmark in Mexico on the 25th of October in 1972 at 30.175 (if we give Sosenka the benefit of the doubt) in 42 years we have moved the record on by 0.7 of a mile. This coming season we may see two of the best chances yet to put a new benchmark on the board. Two of the best cyclists in history against the clock will make attempts to push the distance out further, Fabian Cancellara and hopefully Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins a veteran of the track, and Cancellara one of the best engines in the sport. The Hour is maybe one of the last pure “blue ribbon” records left standing in the sport. Controlled conditions and controlled technology. I can see the attraction for both riders as they enter the twilight of their careers. To have your name talked about in the same sentence as Merckx, Boardman, Moser, Indurain, Rominger, especially as a record holder will stake your place in cycling history. Now all we need is Tony Martin to create the trilogy of the modern “Clock men” to try and break it.