Jens Voigt (Trek) will attempt the world hour record.
The 42-year-old German, who recently announced his retirement from the road, will attempt to break Ondrey Sosenka’s widely discredited 49.7km record at the Velodrome Suisse, in Grenchen, on Thursday September 18.
Voigt, a road specialist, whose relentlessly attacking style has made him arguably the most popular rider in the sport, acknowledged that his announcement would shock many, but argued that the greater surprise was his that no one had yet made an attempt following a change to UCI regulations earlier this year.
“Why I do this? Why not! Everyone saw the memo from the UCI. It’s been four months and I honestly find it quite strange that nobody has given it a try so far,” Voigt said. “We have 18 WorldTour teams, plus more than a 1000 pro continental riders and an immense group of amateurs that also can have a go. I’m not to blame that I take the chances that life – or in this case the UCI – gives me. I’m the first one that’s brave enough to do it. Everybody had the same time frame to be ready for it.”
He continued: “Everybody knows that Fabian (Cancellara) was working on it together with Trek, so when he decided to re-assess his plans because of the rule change (to allow pursuit-style bikes) it sparked my interest,” he added. “We have been doing some discrete tests in the velodrome in Roubaix prior to the Dauphiné and we believe that I have a fair chance.”
The hour record was long considered among the greatest prizes in cycling, and previously held by titans of the road, including Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain. Changes to technical regulations, however, which saw records set by Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree later reclassified by the sport’s governing body, diminished its appeal.
New UCI president, Brian Cookson, announced earlier this year that all subsequent record attempts must be made on machinery used for track endurance events, and abolished any distinction between previous records, declaring Sosenka’s achievement the official record.
The rule change was enough to end Cancellara’s interest, but sparked a positive response from world time trial champion, Tony Martin, and Olympic time trial champion, Sir Bradley Wiggins. Few, if any, would have predicted that the changes would entice a breakaway specialist like Voigt inside the velodrome.
“It’s a fascinating event: it’s super hard, but it’s a great discipline. Man and machine against the clock,” he said. “A lot of logistics comes in play: when, where, how, etc. But I didn’t have to convince anybody: both Trek and our GM Luca Guercilena were all exited when I told them about my idea. They gave me a lot of support. Luckily we could use some of the blueprints that were being drawn for Fabian, so we kind of hit the ground running,” Voigt said.
“I look at this as one last present for my fans. I want to give them something to smile about – before the final curtain falls. But also: I want to do a good performance. This is not a circus act.”
The veteran acknowledged that the hour record had lost some of its lustre in recent years and argued that his career – one that saw him race against the holder, Sosenka, and more recent spcialists against the clock, like Cancellara – might inspire further attempts. “I have no illusion to keep the record once Fabian and other specialists start having a go. But I kind of like the idea of telling me grand children about it, when they sit on my lap when I’m 75,” he said.
News that Voigt will attempt the record has been welcomed by the UCI. In a statement, Cookson said he was ‘delighted’ that the German would attempt the record, describing Voigt as ‘one of the most popular riders of the modern era.’
“It is exactly what we hoped would happen when we changed the rules earlier this year to allow the use of modern track bike design and technology,” Cookson said. “Jens has proven over a long career to be one of the very best riders at the long lone effort, and cycling fans around the world will be delighted with this news. Having been present myself at two previous Hour records, I’m sure his attacking style and willingness to commit himself 100 per cent will provide a superb spectacle. And, like Jens, I too am hoping that this will be the beginning of a new wave of interest in ‘The Magic Hour’, as it was known in a previous golden era of our sport.”
Voigt revealed that he had already begun work with Trek on a development of the manufacturer’s SpeedConcept time trial bike, and said he had tested various skin suits, helmets, and riding positions. He described his record-equaling seventeenth participation in the Tour de France in July as base training and described his narrow defeat on stage four of the USA Pro Challenge a month later as “a good reference”. Voigt rode alone for nearly an hour after breaking clear of the peloton, only to be caught with 700m remaining.
“The hour record is one of the oldest events in our sport. I want to put a little bit of light and focus on this. The UCI wanted to give back some recognition to the event and I follow their reasoning. It will be no pleasure cruise, but I’m really convinced that I can make it. It’s never 100 percent sure, of course, but I worked hard and I will keep working hard until the day is there.”