When Sir Bradley Wiggins makes his bid to beat the Hour record on Sunday, if, as expected, he establishes a new maximum distance pedalled in 60 minutes, one immediate knock-on effect will be simple: Wiggins’ place amongst the legends of cycling will be even more strongly guaranteed.
Success will also prove yet again, that versatility has been the bedrock of Wiggins greatness. No other rider has been capable both of taking multiple Olympic gold medals on track and road as well as conquering the Tour de France - simultaneously a breakthrough result for Great Britain. On the international stage, Wiggins’ bid to triumph in cycling’s greatest Classic, Paris-Roubaix in 2013 and 2014, broke another massive invisible boundary - given the previous Tour de France champion to participate in Paris-Roubaix was Greg LeMond in 1992.
It has reached the point where some of Wiggins’ achievements have been overshadowed by his own successes. It’s almost forgotten, for instance, that in 2012 the Londoner became the first rider, to win Paris-Nice, the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour of Romandie, three of cycling’s top week-long races, in a single season, and in 2014 he became the first, too, since his own idol, Miguel Indurain, to have won both a Tour and the World Time Trial title.
“In the modern era, he’s pretty much up there with the best there’s ever been,” believes ex-professional Sean Yates, who directed Wiggins to victory in the 2012 Tour. “He’s got that versatility as a rider, and it’s not over yet. He could well go to Rio and get another medal.”
But if Wiggins’ greatness and fame are well-established, for other Britons, like Graeme Obree in 1993, unexpectedly beating the Hour record was a break-out from near obscurity. “One week I was on the dole, the next there were… TV crews on the doorstep, 64 messages on the answer-phone, people saying ‘come and race in Denmark, we’ll pay you thousands.’ he said in 2003. A week before, “he had been hunting down the back of the sofa for 20p to buy a loaf of bread.”
Therein lies the Hour record’s beauty: on paper it is the most democratic of cycling’s great titles. Requiring a minimal budget and logistical support - basically, a track, a stopwatch and a bike - anybody can try for the Hour. So in theory anybody can beat it. Obree was a case in point: his pre-Record diet famously consisted of marmalade sandwiches and cornflakes and his record-breaking bike was built in his kitchen, using washing-machine parts and scrap metal found on an Ayre bypass.
As such, the Hour record is sometimes viewed as the Blue Riband of cycling: how far, in the most neutral circumstances possible - the flat, smooth surface of a velodrome, free of external factors like the weather, although not of questions like altitude, crowd support and air pressure - can a lone man go on two wheels, unpaced, team-less and unaided?Reuse content