A world hour record rivalry is potentially brewing between British rider Alex Dowsett and Belgian Victor Campenaerts as Dowsett announced that he plans to make a new attempt to once again break the world hour on December 12. But Campenaerts — the current record holder responded quickly — saying that if Dowsett succeeded, he would have no choice but to make another attempt himself.
Dowsett, a British rider with the Israel Start-Up Nation team, first broke the hour record in 2015 when he covered 52.937 kilometers at the Manchester Velodrome, breaking the previous record held by Australian Rohan Dennis. But his own record lasted just a little over a month, as countryman Bradley Wiggins rode more than a kilometer-and-a-half further with a 54.526m performance on June 7 of 2015. This effort was bested by Belgian Victor Campenaerts in 2019, when he became the first rider in the modern era to break the 55-kilometer mark with his 55,089m performance.
“Last time around was great. Obviously, I broke the record. But also I learned a lot from my first attempt,” Dowsett said in an interview with Eurosport UK this week. “And what I really learned was that I could have gone further. I found it incredibly frustrating to put all of that work into it and not have gone as fast as I could.”
Dowsett admits that regaining the record is not a given. “It is a risk. The benchmarks that Wiggins and Victor have set are high, but we did some tests earlier in the year and it is doable. So we are going to give it a shot.”
For his second attempt, he will once again return to the Manchester velodrome as opposed to making an attempt at altitude like Campenaerts. “Doing it at altitude requires a huge amount of prep. And if we were to do it at altitude I would have to go live in Mexico, and with COVID in South America now, there are all sorts of complications,” Dowsett explained. “So we are going to do it in Manchester under UK cycling rules. The tests I did were at sea level. And we think it is doable and it is a lot simpler to do.”
But while his second attempt is again at sea level, Dowsett insists that numerous other variables have changed in the past five years, with progress being made particularly in helmet and skinsuit aerodynamics. In addition, he says that he has worked a lot in the past two years to improve his time trial position. And finally, he insists that he is simply in better physical condition. “I am fitter, and I am definitely in a better place coming straight off the back of a grand tour (i.e. the Giro d’Italia where he won a stage),” he said. “Last time around I did a lot of time on the track. But we learned that that is not so important. So we will do a lot more of our preparation on the road this time, and then just jump on the track in the last couple of weeks at the end. And I am a bit lighter as well. I powered on some timber for the last one because I didn’t really think it mattered.”
But almost as soon as Dowsett announced a new attempt, current record holder Campenaerts, responded that, if Dowsett bested him, he would soon return to the track himself. “I am really happy that my record will finally be attacked. If Alex pulverizes my record it will be painful, but really, I don’t think that will be the case. It’s a difficult challenge,” Campenaerts told the Belgian sports daily Het Nieuwsblad today. “I like Alex. He is a rival that can take away my greatest success as a rider. If he beats me, I will plan another attack very shortly.”
But while Dowsett understands that regaining the record is not a given, he is motivated by an additional factor, his life-long struggle with hemophilia, a rare genetic disorder that impairs the body’s ability to make blood clots and hence stop bleeds in case of bruising or injury.
“It is not something that I talk about, my hemophilia, because I consider myself a bike racer. But it is a message that if you have a rare condition, with a positive outlook, you can make the best of it rather than letting it beat you. It is a message that, whether you win or lose, it is good to get out there. Basically, I have to go two kilometers further. That’s eight more times around the track.”