Sir Bradley Wiggins became only the sixth Tour de France champion in history to claim the UCI Hour Record after recording a distance of 54.526km to smash Alex Dowsett’s previous mark at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London.
Watched by his childhood hero, Miguel Indurain, a former holder of the record, Wiggins, freshly shaven on the advice of British Cycling’s aerodynamics team, covered 219 laps on a velodrome which stands on the same plot of land as the old Eastway track, where the Londoner raced as a boy.
Though Dowsett’s record stood at 52.937km, Wiggins had set an unofficial target of 55.250km ahead of the attempt. However, high air pressure in London worked against Wiggins and the 35-year-old admitted a tinge of disappointment that the one thing he was unable to control – the weather – meant he was unable to challenge Tony Rominger’s distance of 55.291km, set in 1994 under now outlawed regulations.
Wiggins believes unfavourable conditions cost him in the region of 700m but admits his new record will make future contenders think twice about an hour challenge.
“It’s a huge relief, more than anything,“ said Wiggins, the eighth rider to make a record attempt since the UCI revamped the rules in 2014. “I was confident that I could always break the record, but it’s never done until the fat lady sings.
“That’s raised the bar a fair bit, from the existing record. For sure, it will deter people, or make them think twice. It’s the first real big marker now.
“I couldn’t have done any more in those conditions. It’s probably the worst weekend I could have done it over the past couple of months and that’s the furthest I could have gone today.
“Perhaps not as far as I maybe have dreamed or hoped had the conditions been different, but I’m satisfied nonetheless. If I’d had 1000 (bar air pressure) instead of 1030 I reckon I’d have gone 700m further.”
Wiggins is a fastidious student of the sport and joins Lucien Petit-Breton, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain as a Tour-winning hour record holder, saying that it is an honour to be in the company of the sport’s greats.
The former Team Sky rider made his intentions clear from the outset and held an average speed of around the 54.6km/h mark for much of the ride in a perfectly-controlled display as he ticked off the minutes in his rock-steady, flat-back, metronome style, with the pace only falling slightly as the pain hit late on.
“I was in a lot of pain the last ten minutes,” said Wiggins, who quipped that the ride was the closest he would come to childbirth. However, Wiggins believes that holding the Tour’s yellow jersey was a tougher and more intense experience than the hour record, with a veiled reference to former team-mate Chris Froome’s attack while he was leading the race in 2012.
“Try leading the Tour for two weeks, that’s bloody hard. Looking over your shoulder… I don’t think it will ever surpass the Tour in terms of the intensity.”
Wiggins’ advantage over Dowsett’s record increased steadily lap-by-lap, and he was already 28 seconds up on the Essex rider’s mark after 10km, with the question not whether he would break the record, but by how much.
Having broken his effort into 12-minute blocks, Wiggins entered the final painful block with 43.5km already in the bank and, with a deafening roar from the London crowd following Wiggins around the track, the record effectively fell with more than 90 seconds on the clock, leaving the four-time Olympic gold medalist time to add more than 1.5km to Dowsett’s distance.
With just enough energy to climb off his bike, raise it aloft and celebrate with his family, Wiggins was left to reflect on yet another super-human performance in a career not short on highlights.
Now, having set the new benchmark, Wiggins says he would “love” Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin to make an attempt, and also backed 26-year-old Dowsett to have another shot – if not immediately then later in his career.
“I know [Alex] is like me and he’ll do his homework and if he thinks it’s possible he’ll have a go at it,” said Wiggins. “He’s got another eight years to have a go at it, he’s in his 20s. Fabian and Tony are running out of time.”
Wiggins, however, ruled out another attempt before he calls time on his career next summer. With the hour record added to an incredible palmares, Wiggins will now enjoy a holiday in what is effectively his off-season before returning to the road with his eponymous team and the track with the British Cycling team pursuit squad, as he embarks on the final chapter of a remarkable career. Next stop: Rio 2016.