A raised fist and the convulsions of a body in urgent need of oxygen signalled a new triumph for Sir Bradley Wiggins last night as he smashed the historic world hour record at the Olympic velodrome in London.
The Tour de France champion rode 54.526km (33.88 miles), adding 1.589km, or more than six laps, to the record set last month by fellow British racer Alex Dowsett and cementing his position among cycling’s greats.
“That puts the cat amongst the pigeons, it’s raised the bar now,” Wiggins said with the roar of 6,000 fans still ringing in his ears. “The elation is the same after any race. The relief, the satisfaction that you’ve broken the record, and that it’s over. But the relief more than anything.”
Yet triumph mingled with disappointment as the weather worked against him. Wiggins had targeted 55.2km and even fuelled speculation that he could challenge Chris Boardman’s 1996 record of 56.5km, set using a now-illegal riding position. But unseasonably high pressure increased air density, making it harder to cut through.
“It was probably the worst weekend I could have done it in the last couple of months,” he said. “That was as far as I could have gone but not as far as I dreamed or hoped had the conditions been right. But I’m still satisfied.”
Wiggins, 35, estimates he could have added up to a kilometre to his distance had the air pressure been low. The rider sought marginal aerodynamic gains elsewhere, reluctantly cropping his thick hair and shaving his beard before the event. “It’s a commitment to knowing you’ve done everything you can,” he said, promising to grow it back. “It’s game time, not a fashion show.”
He began his attempt four minutes early, taking the crowd by surprise before the scheduled 6:30pm start time. Sky Sports, which had heavily promoted the attempt, was still in an ad break.
But, focused only on the next 60 minutes, the rider rolled between the black and red lines of the velodrome like a train, circling the 250-metre track 218 times with metronomic precision.
His upper body remained perfectly still, back as flat as an ironing board, but his legs pumped like pistons. Before 6,000 fans squeezed into the Olympic venue, Wiggins had admitted to concerns that such a feat could have been dull to watch, but not since the glory days of 2012 have the pine boards of a British velodrome reverberated with such roars.
“The noise was phenomenal, you couldn’t fail to hear it,” Wiggins said.
The first big cheer came after 10 kilometres, when big screens showed Wiggins was already on 54.5km pace. After 40 minutes, he was on schedule to hit 54.6km, and a ball of sound rolled around the stands. A Mexican wave followed, but fizzled out when it could not keep up with the rider’s pace.
The cacophony reached a peak in the final 10 minutes, when Wiggins’ pace began to slip and, for the first time, he looked uncomfortable. A starting pistol sounded the end of the torture, and Wiggins hobbled off his bike to kiss his wife, Catherine.
His ride completes the thrilling revival of a record with a 120-year history. Since 1893, legends of cycling have lined up to challenge it, including Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. The Spanish five-times Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain, who broke the record in 1994, watched Wiggins’ attempt.
“There’s five of us who have won the Tour and broken the hour record,” Wiggins said. “It’s just an honour to be in that company. When I found out Miguel was coming, I got a yellow jersey of his I’ve got at home and told my wife to bring it today so he could sign it.
“I was inspired so much by those people. There was this bronzed man from Pamplona, and this skinny white kid from Kilburn. I never dreamed I could do this.”
Wiggins is the eighth rider to attack the hour in as many months after the UCI, the sport’s governing body, relaxed rules governing the bikes and riding positions that could be used in attempts last year.
After the ride, Boardman, the British cyclist whose hour-record heroics in the 1990s triggered a new wave of British talent still breaking on these shores, tweeted: “Congratulations to Brad Wiggins, phenomenal effort. 1036mb air pressure. Right day, another km. another go maybe....?”
Boardman’s rivalry with the “Flying Scotsman” Graeme Obree gripped the cycling world for years until the UCI turned back the clock by instating an “athlete’s hour” using old-style bikes. Boardman broke that, too, but the move otherwise put the event in aspic until last year.
Wiggins was arguably the first big cycling talent to attempt the hour under the new rules, but Dowsett, who rode conservatively during his attempt last month, is already preparing to try and win back the record. Wiggins confirmed yesterday that he would not make a second attempt.
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