The hour record is the record for the longest distance cycled in one hour on a bicycle from a stationary start. Cyclists attempt this record alone on the track without other competitors present. It is considered perhaps the most prestigious record in all of cycling. Over history, various cyclists ranging from unknown amateurs to well-known professionals have held the record, adding to its prestige and allure. There is now one unified record for upright bicycles meeting the requirements of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Hour-record attempts for UCI bikes are made in a velodrome.
Early hour records (until 1984)
The first universally accepted record was in 1876 when the American Frank Dodds rode 26.508 km (16.471 mi) on a penny-farthing. The first recorded distance was set in 1873 by James Moore in Wolverhampton, riding an Ariel 49" high wheel bicycle, however, the distance was recorded at exactly 14.5 miles leading to the theory that the distance was just approximated and not accurately measured.
The first officially recognised record was set by Henri Desgrange at the Buffalo Velodrome, Paris in 1893 following the formation of the International Cycling Association, the forerunner of the modern day UCI. Throughout the run up to the First World War the record was broken on five occasions by Frenchmen Oscar Egg and Marcel Berthet and due to the attempts being highly popular and guaranteeing rich attendances, it is said that each ensured they did not beat the record by too much of a margin, enabling further lucrative attempts by the other.
The hour was attempted sporadically over the following 70 years, with most early attempts taking place at the Buffalo Velodrome in Paris, before the Velodromo Vigorelli in Milan became popular in 1930s and 1940s sparking attempts from leading Italian riders and former Giro d'Italia winners such as Fausto Coppi and Ercole Baldini. Coppi's record set in 1942 during the second world war despite Milan being bombed nightly by allied forces was eventually broken by 1956 by Jacques Anquetil on his third attempt. In 1967, 11 years later, Anquetil again broke the hour record, with 47.493 km, but the record was disallowed because he refused to take the newly introduced post-race doping test. He objected to what he saw as the indignity of having to urinate in a tent in front of a crowded velodrome and said he would take the test later at his hotel. The international judge ruled against the idea and a scuffle ensued that involved Anquetil's manager, Raphaël Géminiani. In 1968, Ole Ritter broke the record in Mexico City, the first attempt at altitude since Willie Hamilton in 1898.
1984, Moser and new technology
In 1972, Eddy Merckx set a new hour record at 49.431 km (30.715 mi) in Mexico City at an altitude of 2,300 m (7,500 ft) where he proclaimed it to have been "the hardest ride I have ever done". The record would stand for 12 years until in January 1984, Francesco Moser set a new record at 51.151 km (31.784 mi). This was the first noted use of disc wheels, which provided an aerodynamic gain as well as Moser wearing a skin suit. Moser's record would eventually be moved in 1997 to "best human effort"
Non-traditional riding positions
In 1993 and 1994, Graeme Obree, who built his own bikes, posted two records with his hands tucked under his chest. In 1994, Moser set the veteran's record at 51.840 km (32.212 mi) in Mexico City. Moser beat his 1984 record, using bullhorn handlebars, steel airfoil tubing, disk wheels and skinsuit. It was also faster than Obree's first record in 1993. Following the outlawing of the "praying mantis" style by the UCI in May 1994, Spaniard Miguel Indurain and Swiss Tony Rominger broke the record using a more traditional tri-bar setup with Rominger setting a distance of 55.291 km.
Chris Boardman took up the challenge using a modified version of the Lotus 110 bicycle, a successor to the earlier Lotus 108 bicycle he'd ridden to victory at the 1992 Olympic Games. South African company Aerodyne Technology built the frame. Boardman set the UCI Absolute record of 56.375 km (35.030 mi) in 1996, using another position pioneered by Obree, his arms out in front in a "Superman" position. This too was considered controversial by the UCI, and while the record was allowed to stand, the position was banned making Boardman's record set in 1996 effectively unbeatable using traditional bike position. Subsequently, Obree and Boardman made several attempts to top the previous record.
1997 UCI rule change
With the increasing gap between modern bicycles and what was available at the time of Merckx's record, the UCI established two records in 1997:
As a result of the 1997 rule change, all records since 1972, including Boardman's 56.375 km (35.030 mi) in 1996, were moved to Best Human Effort and the distance of Eddie Merckx set in 1972 once more became the official UCI benchmark. In 2000, Boardman attempted the UCI record on a traditional bike, and rode 49.441 km (30.721 mi), topping Merckx by 10 metres (32.8 ft), an improvement of 0.02%.
In 2005, Ondřej Sosenka improved Boardman's performance at 49.700 km (30.882 mi) using a 54×13 gear. However, Sosenka failed a doping control in 2001 and then again in 2008, the latter resulting in a career-ending suspension which puts in doubt the validity of his record. All women's records from 1986 to 1996 were recategorized to Best Human Effort.
Unified rule change (2014)
In 2014, the UCI unified the two classifications into a single classification in line with regulations for current track pursuit bikes. Records previously removed for Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree were returned, however the benchmark record would remain at 49.7 km (30.9 mi) set in 2005 by Ondrej Sosenka, even though that was not the farthest distance. Under the new regulations riders may use any bike allowed by the UCI standards for endurance track events in place at the time of the attempt.
Riders are required to be part of the athlete biological passport program. However, of the men to attempt the record since the rule change, only two were on a UCI World Tour team at the time: Rohan Dennis of the BMC Racing Team and Alex Dowsett of the Movistar Team. Jens Voigt had recently retired from cycling, last riding with Trek Factory Racing. Matthias Brändle was with IAM Cycling, then a UCI Professional Continental team. Jack Bobridge was on Team Budget Forklifts, an Australian UCI Continental team. Thomas Dekker had been released from World Tour team Garmin-Sharp several months before. Gustav Larsson was riding for the Professional Continental team Cult Energy Pro Cycling, whilst Bradley Wiggins had left the World Tour's Team Sky shortly before his attempt, which was made in the colours of his own UCI Continental outfit WIGGINS. Teams are less important in hour record attempts; bike manufacturers are more important; Jens Voigt's bid was supported by Trek Bicycle Corporation, who sponsored his former team, while Rohan Dennis' attempt was sponsored by BMC Trading, who similarly sponsor his team.
So far, nine attempts have been made for the men's record, five successfully, while four attempts have been made on the women's record, three of them successfully.
Unified hour record attempts (men's)
Following the change in the rules, German Jens Voigt became the first rider to attempt the hour, on 18 September 2014 at the Velodrome Suisse, Grenchen, Switzerland. He set a new record of 51.110 km (31.758 mi), beating the previous record set by Sosenka by 1.41 km (0.88 mi). On 30 October 2014, Matthias Brändle set a new record of 51.852 km (32.219 mi) at the World Cycling Center in Aigle, Switzerland.
Further attempts by Australians Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, and Thomas Dekker came within a few weeks, between 31 January and 25 February 2015. Dennis was the only one of the three to set a new record, and in doing so broke the 52 kilometres (32.3 mi) barrier. Dekker's attempt at the Aguascalientes Bicentenary Velodrome was the first attempt to take place at appreciable altitude. Aguascalientes is at 1,890 m (6,200 ft) above sea level, while Melbourne is at only 31 m (102 ft), and, although in Switzerland, Grenchen and Aigle are at 451 m (1,480 ft) and 415 m (1,362 ft), and not in the mountains. High altitude is thought to result in faster times, providing the rider takes the time to acclimatise to the conditions. This is because the air density decreases with an increase in altitude, which reduces the aerodynamic drag.
Having postponed an earlier scheduled attempt due to a broken collarbone incurred in a crash while training, British cyclist Alex Dowsett exceeded Dennis' mark, with a new record of 52.937 km (32.894 mi), at Manchester Velodrome on 2 May 2015.
On 7 June 2015, Sir Bradley Wiggins broke Dowsett's record, by completing a distance of 54.526 km (33.881 mi) at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London.
Unified hour record attempts (women's)
The last women's hour record before the unified rule change was set on 1 October 2003 by Leontien van Moorsel, with a distance of 46.065 km (28.623 mi).
In December 2014, it was announced that British Paralympian Sarah Storey would be the first woman to attempt the record following the unified rule change. She attempted the record on 28 February 2015 at Lee Valley Velo Park in London, setting new British, Para-Cycling and Masters Age 35–39 records but missing out on the Elite record with a distance of 45.502 km (28.274 mi). British Olympian Joanna Rowsell has also expressed interest in attempting to break the record.
American Molly Shaffer Van Houweling broke the women's UCI Hour Record, riding a distance of 46.273 km (28.753 mi) on 12 September 2015 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Van Houweling had set three new US Hour Records in the year prior. The first was set on 15 December 2014, in Carson, California, with a distance of 44.173 km (27.448 mi). The second was set on 25 February 2015, in Aguascalientes, Mexico, with a distance of 45.637 km (28.358 mi). The third was set on 3 July 2015, also in Aguascalientes, Mexico, with a distance of 46.088 km (28.638 mi). This last mark was also the Pan-American and World Masters Age 40–44 record at the time, and exceeded the distance of the UCI hour record of van Moorsel. However, it did not qualify as the UCI Hour Record because Van Houweling had only been enrolled in the athlete biological passport program for three and a half months prior to setting this record. The UCI requires that riders be enrolled in this program for 5–10 months before they are eligible to set this mark. From 24 August 2015, Van Houweling was eligible to attempt the UCI Hour Record.
In October 2015, Bridie O'Donnell announced her intention to aim for the hour record in January 2016. She broke the record at the Adelaide Super-Drome on 22 January 2016, riding 46.882 km and breaking the record by over six hundred metres.
The new regulations for the making of accepted Hour record attempts were extended to Para-cycling in 2016. Although the first attempt on the Hour record for women after the amendments to the regulations was made by Paralympian Sarah Storey, it was not a ratified attempt on the Women's C5 Hour Record under the new conditions, which at that point still did not extend to paracycling - albeit that Storey's effort is recognized as a best C5 performance under the new rules, in addition to a British and Masters World hour record in able-bodied cycling.
The first attempt on a Para-cycling Hour record after the new regulations were extended to para-cycling was by Irishman Colin Lynch in the C2 category, bettering the accepted best performance previously set by Laurent Thirionet in 1999 by 2 kilometres, and setting the first 'ratified' para-cycling world hour record. The mark of 43.133 km was achieved on 1 October at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, Great Britain.