Destination: Hour record
The hour record is one of the most demanding tests, not just on the track, but in all of cycling. The hour symbolizes a true test of both physical prowess and mental strength.
Molly Shaffer Van Houweling has become an expert in pushing her body and mind to the limits. For her, the hour record is not just a ride with all left turns, but a destination and one that begins well before she enters the velodrome. “It’s all about the journey,” Van Houweling said after setting a new hour record on Friday at the track in Aguascalientes, Mexico. “This race really does seem designed to be all about the destination, record books, or bust.”
Beyond the track
Track cycling is much different than the other disciplines of the sport: “The indoor velodromes in which these events are held are not scenic,” Van Houweling said.
A velodrome may not be scenic, but that doesn’t mean Van Houweling has “been starved” of scenery. “I’ve trained in the stunning mountains near Mammoth Lakes, California,” Van Houweling said.
“There are so many variables that contribute to results, many of them out of your control, that it seems healthier to focus on the beauty of training on scenic roads, the fun of spending time with teammates and other racers, and the thrilling dynamics of racing, win or lose.”
But with an hour record attempt, the journey does center on the track. Van Houweling’s journey has led her to many velodromes, from her home track at Hellyer Park in San Jose to the Palma Arena Velodrome on the island of Mallorca and, of course, to one of the fastest velodromes in the world in Aguascalientes. “It turns out that velodromes are varied and interesting, if not exactly scenic,” Van Houweling said.
Throughout Van Houweling’s journey, there were two prominent figures helping her reach the destination. These “fanatics” as Van Houweling refers to them, helped inspire her to go on this journey.
Jim Turner, hour-record holder in the world masters 75-79 age group, inspired Van Houweling when she watched his attempt in August of 2014, on the same track that would eventually become her destination. “He is the one who recommended altitude training at Mammoth Lakes, and we became neighbors and friends there this summer,” Van Houweling said. Turner not only helped Van Houweling with her training, but his “infectious enthusiasm” helped make Van Houweling’s journey an enjoyable one.
The second prominent figure was former men’s UCI hour record holder and Movistar rider, Alex Dowsett. Van Houweling met Dowsett in January, while training for her February attempt. She “watched in star-struck awe as Alex sped around the track perfectly tracing the black line that marks the shortest possible route.”
After successfully completing her own record attempt and choosing to go for the record again, Van Houweling watched Dowsett set a new men’s UCI hour record and looked on as he showed “amazing self-discipline in setting a controlled pace designed perfectly to break the previous record.”
Van Houweling reached out to Dowsett after his record to congratulate him, but also to find out what else she could do to make sure she reached her destination. “He described some critical equipment choices and tweaks. He called them the ‘bit and pieces’ that added to his ride,” Van Houweling said. Dowsett though, had the full backing and support of a professional WorldTour team. This didn’t deter Van Houweling, and she set about gathering her “bits and pieces.”
“After several successful training sessions focused on ‘Dowsett-style’ careful pacing, I set out on this attempt intentionally going more slowly than I did last time.”
Arriving at the destination
Over the weekend, Van Houweling arrived at the high-altitude velodrome in Aguascalientes, Mexico with the goal of reaching her destination, “record books or bust.”
Throughout the whole attempt, Van Houweling hovered near the pace of Leontin van Moorsel’s women’s UCI hour record of 46.065km, set back in 2003. She never managed ride to more than a handful of seconds ahead of van Moorsel’s record pace, but always stayed ahead.
Van Houweling ultimately rode a distance of 46.088km, smashing her previous U.S., Pam Am, and world masters 40-44 age group hour records set in February. Van Houweling’s new distance also surpassed van Moorsel’s record by a mere 23 meters.
However, Houweling’s record does not qualify for the women’s UCI hour record because she has not been part of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) anti-doping test pool long enough. She joined the ABP back in March and the timeframe has not been long enough for the UCI to declare her passport valid.
Van Houweling plans to continue the journey though, and set a new destination, officially becoming the women’s UCI hour record holder. “I’m saving money and looking for sponsors to facilitate another attempt,” Van Houweling said.
“I’m proud of reaching that destination, but even happier to report that the journey was better — endless left turns and all,” Van Houweling said. The “bits and pieces” had paid off, but for her, “most of the fun was in putting it all together.”