The recently retired 42-year-old hopes his attempt at the hour record will inspire renewed interest in one of cycling's hallowed challenges
Jens Voigt, 42, has scheduled September 18 as the date to attempt to break Ondrej Sosenka’s 49.7 kilometer mark for the hour record. The attempt will happen in the Vélodrome Suisse in Grenchen.
“It’s a huge challenge for me, both physical and mental,” said the recently retired German. “This is a huge project, and probably it’s going to come as a surprise for many people. Everybody knows that Fabian [Cancellara] was working on it together with Trek, so when he decided to reassess his plans because of the rule change [to allow pursuit-style bikes] it sparked my interest. 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.
“It’s a fascinating event: it’s super hard, but it’s a great discipline. Man and machine against the clock. 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.
“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 ‘hour’ has lost some of its magic over the last years. Maybe my attempt could kick off a new round of hour-record attempts. I could establish a mark for everyone to give it a try. Make a bridge, you know. I raced against Boardman, Indurain, and Sosenka. And I’m racing with Fabian and his generation. If I make it, it would be sandwiched between those names. I can pave the way for them. 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.”
Sosenka — who had a nondescript cycling career and was twice banned for doping violations — currently holds the record.
The Czech was excluded from the Peace Race after failing a hematocrit test, and his career ended in 2008 after he tested positive for the banned stimulant methamphetamine during the Czech national time trial championships.
Other than breaking the world hour record, his best results were the modest accomplishments of winning the 2002 Peace Race and 2006 Czech national time trial championships.
“I’m training very hard for the attempt,” Voigt said. “I have the Tour de France as a base layer, and then I did some altitude racing in Utah and Colorado. My near-win in Colorado Springs, where I was caught with 700 meters to go, was a good reference in terms of power output. I basically was out there for one hour by myself. I had this attempt in mind that very day, besides taking the stage, of course.
“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. We have 18 WorldTour teams, plus more than a 1,000 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.”
Prior to Sosenka, the record was held by British Olympic champion Chris Boardman with 49.441km. That records, though, was set on a bicycle that had to closely resemble the one used by Belgian great Eddy Merckx for his record in 1972.
But now the UCI is allowing records using current track cycling pursuit bikes.
“The hour record is one of the oldest events in our sport,” said Voigt. “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.”
UCI president Brian Cookson said, “I’m delighted that one of the most popular riders of the modern era, Jens Voigt, is going to make an attempt on this, the most iconic of all the UCI’s records. 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. 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 percent 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.”