MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — It is one of sport’s most cherished achievements, one that stands up to the relentless pushes of time and innovation. The hour record — in which a cyclist suites up and pedals as far as possible in one hour — was long sought after by stars as their careers wound down and their places in history were already etched on the showers of the Roubaix Velodrome or in the Tour record books.
Eddy Merckx was the most notable UCI Hour Record holder, riding it “Merckx style,” on a road bike with drop bars, today’s method of reference for the road riders in pursuit of 60-minute fame. Francesco Moser, Graeme Obree, Chris Boardman, Miguel Indurain, and Tony Rominger have also held the record, having ridden on a variety of aerodynamic equipment. Ondrej Sosenka is the current record holder.
So why not Fabian Cancellara? It makes perfect sense that the man they call “Spartacus” would bend the hour — what Merckx called the longest hour — to his will. Reports came out this week he would try to set the mark in Mexico, the country in which Merckx established his, after the Tour de France, in early August. (The high altitude, at more than 6,000 feet, at Aguascalientes, Mexico, allows for quicker travel through thinner air.)
During a long conversation in Oman this week, Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) just laughed when asked about the record. It was, according to Cancellara, news to the star classics man. Trek asked the media to “respect” the fact that nothing had been set in stone, but, frankly, the media has very little respect for this kind of thing. Cancellara, though, was ready.
“I’ve Googled [it] myself … the first time in my life, honestly, where is Aguascalientes? I don’t know where it is. I know it’s somewhere close to Cabo San Lucas. Then maybe there will be nice holidays, but I didn’t know, actually, where that is. That’s why I Googled it yesterday. It’s somewhere in Mexico. It’s close to this Cabo San Lucas. I was looking more to Baja,” he said, smiling wide.
“Of course there’s a lot of rumors. In another way, it comes out, more funny stories. Riders today asked me, ‘hey, I will not come. You need to invite me on a private jet.’ There’s all kinds of nice stories, journalists asked me, ‘hey, I booked holiday already after the Tour.’ Riders said, ‘hey, I need to race criteriums to get money.’ There’s all sorts of stories now,” Cancellara said. “Somewhere it’s funny, somewhere it’s frustrating. … It’s not just, ‘ok, you do it and it’s done.’”
But Cancellara is a star in a sport of that has few patrons at the moment, perhaps its very apex from a media and leadership standpoint. He knows it’s all part of the deal. In fact, he’s an old pro.
“I have to play a bit as well. I have to take this pressure away. But I think that’s normal. We know in cycling there is, from one little rumor, it’s an avalanche,” he said. “Even when I put I go to North Pole to visit the new track [on Twitter] they took that over and put it in the news, that I go to the North Pole, they make me a nice ice palace track. I mean, can you imagine?”
The current record belongs to Sosenka, a Czech, who set the mark in Moscow in 2005. He rode 49.7km. In June of 2008, Sosenka tested positive for methamphetamine. It was his second anti-doping case, coming after a 2001 expulsion from the Peace Race before it began for a high hematocrit reading.
Cancellara said firmly the attempt would not come after the classics, but that was about it. And it’s also unlikely to occur in the freezing cold in an ice palace.
“This is new food to make new stories,” he said. “The rest is just in the air and in the stars. I will not say no, but it’s not just, you run on a track one hour and then you’ve done it. There is more than that. There is a lot of time, with the road, with Trek. … I’m a road racer. I’m not a track rider. … I have to live with on the classics everyone will look at me and with this kind of project that I have somewhere in my mind in the next years, next months, or next days, or tomorrow I don’t know. That’s not a secret. That’s of course. But like I said. One hour is not just one hour. It’s more than that.”
And until then, that one hour will draw more stories, and more questions, than could ever possibly fit into it. It was the longest hour for Merckx, and will be the longest for Cancellara. And for the rest of us, we’ll be counting the hours until the one that, again, matters.