Alex Dowsett stands on the brink of cycling history ahead of his attempt to break the UCI Hour Record on Saturday (May 2) – and the Essex-man is remarkably relaxed about it all.
Despite an hour of pain awaiting him in Manchester, Dowsett was at ease and in a jovial mood when he faced his final press conference, promising to shave his beard before he takes to the track but admitting his rescheduled attempt had caused a headache for his team.
And Dowsett is under no illusion as to the size of the challenge before him – in his words ‘the purest form of a time trial’.
“The hour record is the ultimate time trial,” said Dowsett. “It’s man and machine against the next man and machine. There’s no change in wind conditions and there’s not really any tactics as such so it’s the purest form of the time trial.
“It’s quite something to be in a position now where I can go for one myself.”
Dowsett originally planned to tackle the event in London in February until a training crash and broken collarbone forced him to reschedule.
Having recovered and ridden himself back into form, however, the Commonwealth Games time trial champion believes the new date and move to Manchester could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
“I’m in a better place than I was when I crashed,” said Dowsett. “The training is good. We’re into that horrible phase just before an event where you can’t get any fitter but you can ruin it all if you do too much or too little.
“It’s all about finding that balance but the numbers have all been fairly good.
“[This time] London wasn’t feasible for political and financial reasons but as it happens I feel Manchester is a better venue for it.
“There’s been a lot of research to suggest Manchester is faster as well and that’s certainly how it feels. It’s been a blessing in disguise and it’s going to be quite something to take the event on at the same venue Boardman broke the record.
“I’m nervous but excited by the prospect.”
Dowsett’s training for the reschedule attempt first saw him ticking over on the turbo while he waited for his collarbone to heal, before splitting his time between the track and the road.
Work on the road, Dowsett says, has been no different to his normal efforts when racing with Movistar, and it is on the track that he has fine-tuned his preparation for the hour.
“With the hour record, it is so quantifiable so you become obsessed with it,” said Dowsett. “Everything I do I translates to metres gained or lost on the track. If the coach tells me to do an hour more on the road, I view that as ten metres I’ll gain on the track. That’s where the extra motivation comes in, whereas before I may have done four hours just because I wanted to go home.”
And Dowsett says his preparation for the hour record has hammered home the differences between road racing, time trialling and riding on the track.
“If you do a time trial, you realise how much rest you get in a road race,” he explained. “If you train for the hour record, you realise how much rest you get in a time trial.
“You appreciate things even down to a rest as small as a gear change in the time trial, which gives you that tiny bit of respite that you just don’t get on the track.
“That’s why the pacing is so important – you don’t get chance to recover. You saw with Jack Bobridge’s attempt that if you go out of the blocks too hard then you will pay the price in a big way later on.
“It brought home how punishing it is if you pace it wrong. If you compare that with Rohan Dennis, who finished and raised his bike above his head, the contrast was stark.
“The difference in distance between their attempts, and how well they were after the attempt, is not a reflection on how much better one is compared to the other it just shows how tough it is if you get it wrong in the first ten or fifteen minutes.”
For Dowsett, there is a personal reason for taking on the UCI Hour Record – something he alluded to when he first announced his record attempt.
Dowsett has haemophilia and is hoping to inspire young people who also suffer from the conditions that it needn’t take over your life.
Charity events have been arranged around the hour record and Dowsett says, after travelling with the Miles for Haemophilia campaign last year, he can’t lose on Saturday – record or not.
“It has been a massive source of motivation and inspiration for me,” he said. “I’ve had two massive wins in my career so far – the stage of the Giro d’Italia and the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games – and they are both viewed very differently both inside cycling and out of it.
“With the stage of the Giro d’Italia, to people outside of cycling it’s just that you’ve won a bit of a much larger race that does a lap of Italy whereas inside cycling it’s huge. The Commonwealth Games, in cycling, is quite small, but the response from the haemophilia community after the Commonwealth Games was huge, because it’s seen by them as a mini Olympics.
“I was getting a lot of messages saying people were using me as an example of what could be achieved. Travelling with the Miles for Haemophilia really brought home how important what I was doing on a bike was to the haemophilia community across the globe.
“Something like a world record attempt would be really big for the haemophilia community. It’s the message it puts out, that you shouldn’t be afraid to go out and put yourself on the line.
“It’s got me through some dark days and really I can’t lose on Saturday however it works out because hopefully it will show a generation of people with rare diseases that you shouldn’t be afraid to give something a go.
“It shouldn’t take over your life, though it can certainly help shape it – that’s what happened with me, it’s why I took up cycling as I couldn’t do contact sports.”
With Dowsett’s training now complete, and his motivation sky high, all that remains is for the attempt itself.
Dennis’ mark of 52.491km has already survived two attempts from Thomas Dekker and Gustav Larsson, but Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue believes a strong team effort will be rewarded on Saturday.
“The hour record is different from the rest of the calendar,” he said. “It’s a very special day. The team has a tradition with the hour record, through Miguel Indurain.
“It has been a good thing with the delay [after Dowsett’s injury], because it’s helped us to grow as a team and learn more about technology, the materials and us as human beings. Saturday will be the reward for all this effort.”