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Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Man
17 Jul 2001 14:47 GMT
Matt Weaver challenges the world Hour Record for a human-powered vehicle, an event which takes cycling to a new level.
Cycling Hour Record
Blurred vision: Boardman en route to breaking the Hour Record in 1996
Blurred vision: Boardman en route to breaking the Hour Record in 1996

The Hour Record is one of cycling's most grueling, yet sought-after, titles.

One of the reasons for its lustre is the history of the discipline. The list of previous record holders reads like a roll of honor of cycling's greatest names - Egg, Coppi, Merckx, Indurain and Rominger have all held the Hour Record since it was established with a mark of 35.325km/21.95 miles in 1893 by Henri Desgrange, who also founded the Tour de France.

Since Desgrange, 23 of the world's elite cyclists have advanced the Hour Record and progressively pushed back the boundaries of cycling.


Egg: Held record three times
Egg: Held record three times

Between 1907 and 1914, France's Marcel Berthet and Oscar Egg of Switzerland were engaged in a titanic clash to claim the Hour Record from each other.

Three times Berthet set a new mark, only for Egg to come back and set a new standard on each occasion. Eventually, Egg's third record-breaking distance of 44.247km/27.49 miles, set in Paris in 1914, proved one step too far for Berthet.

In the 1990s, modern cycling's big guns got in on the act. Scotsman Graeme Obree (twice), Englishman Chris Boardman, Spaniard Miguel Indurain and Swiss Tony Romnger (twice) all set new records until, in 1996, Boardman rode 56.375km/35.031 miles at Manchester to reclaim his record. It is a mark which still stands today.


Indurain: Former holder
Indurain: Former holder

However, in September 2000, cycling's world governing body, the UCI, decided to establish two separate world hour records. They felt there was a danger technological advancements had become more important than the athletic prowess of the cyclists.

Accordingly, Boardman's 1996 record of 56.375km/35.03 miles was labeled the 'Best Hour Performance' but was no longer officially recognized.

It was effectively replaced by the 'UCI Hour Record', which would have to be set by a traditional bicycle and outlawed the use of streamlining technology and bicycles constructed from high-tech materials such as Kevlar and carbon-fiber.

The UCI decided the last time an orthodox bicycle was used was Belgian Eddy Merckx's mark of 49.431km/30.716 miles, set in 1972 in Mexico City. The Hour Record therefore effectively reverted to Merckx's distance.

But in October 2000, during the World Championships at Manchester, Boardman crowned himself the undisputed king of the Hour Record by beating Merckx's mark by just 10m/32.81ft with a distance of 49.441km/30.723 miles.


Pushing it: Boardman's attempt in 2000
Pushing it: Boardman's attempt in 2000
İAlex Livesey/ALLSPORT

In a bizarre twist to the event, it later emerged that up until two hours before his ride, Boardman had believed that whatever mark he set would be regarded as the new record.

When officials informed him otherwise and that he would actually have to beat Merckx's mark, Boardman was suddenly faced with a tougher task than he had anticipated.

With only minutes of the hour remaining, he was 0.1kph/0.006mph off the pace but a partisan home crowd roared him on. Boardman called the end "the hardest three laps of my life" but sneaked an improvement of 10m/32.81ft over Merckx's 1972 record.

After the finish, Boardman was close to collapsing and had to be helped off his bike before remarking: "I've never been in so much pain after a race."

Having fulfilled his goal, and also having been diagnosed with a debilitating illness, Boardman immediately retired from professional cycling.

In the latest twist to the Hour Record saga, top Spanish cyclist Abraham Olano recently announced his intention to challenge the Hour Record in both Bilbao and Bordeaux.