On September 2, 1994, Miguel Indurain broke the Hour Record at the Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux, France. “Big Mig” covered 53.040 km in an hour.

Miguel Indurain breaking the Hour Record
Miguel Indurain breaking the Hour Record on September 2, 1994. Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux. Indurain covered 53.040 km in an hour.

Indurain rode the famous “Pinarello Sword” time trial bike (or originally Pinarello Espada) to break the record, which is a conceptional bike that took 5-time Tour de France winner Indurain to some of his most impressive time-trial wins.

When Miguel Indurain announced to attack the hour record, the magazines predicted a sensational mark of 55 or 56 km/h. But some experts were more cautious because Indurain’s aerodynamic position on the bike was very poor – his head is very high in the air, always well above his shoulders. But in the road time-trials, this did not seem to slow him down very much.

The actual attempt was finally well below 55 or 56 km/h. He started very slow and needed 20 km to match up with Graeme Obree’s split times. After reaching an average speed of 53 km/h, he slowed down again and needed a sudden outburst between 30 and 35 km to stay above 53 km/h. He used a Pinarello sword (Pinarello Espada) carbon bike with a very aerodynamic frame and Campagnolo disc wheels.

As stated in an article by Dr. Michele Ferrari (yes, that Michele Ferrari), it was likely that Indurain, only 5 weeks after the finish of the Tour de France, was not at his peak form when he set his record. He also points out that Indurain’s position on the bike didn’t seem to be optimal.

A key factor could be that the rider’s track speed is not constant, presenting continued accelerations and decelerations corresponding to curves and straight-aways. A heavy rider pays dearly for these accelerations-far more than a light-weight because of Newton’s second law of motionF=ma. While the total mass (m) is a constant, you need to produce more force to keep acceleration (a) high.

Finally, at these speeds the one-hour record, Indurain clearly suffered more from the centrifugal force in the curves, since he is about 15 kg heavier than a “normal” cyclist. Note that Ondrej Sosenka (2 meters tall!) chose the track in Moscow (for his UCI hour record 2005) which has a length of 333 meters and therefore less centrifugal forces.

Indurain’s Hour Record didn’t last long, just 51 days later, Tony Rominger broke the record with covering 53.832 km in an hour at the same place, Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux.

Indurain tried to recapture the record in Colombia at altitude in 1995 but was off the pace from the start.

Over the last two decades, Hour Record has lost its popularity among the Grand Tour general classification contenders. The last grand tour winner who broke the Hour Record was Tony Rominger, he broke the record second time on November 5, 1994.

Example UCI Hour record-holders

Eddy Merckx (October 25, 1972)

Age: 27
Velodrome: Mexico City
Distance (km): 49.431
Equipment: drop handlebar/round steel tubing frame/wire spokes

Francesco Moser (January 23, 1984)

Age: 32
Velodrome: Mexico City
Distance (km): 51.151
Equipment: bull-horn handlebar/oval steel tubing frame/disk wheels

Graeme Obree (July 17, 1993)

Age: 27
Velodrome: Vikingskipet, Hamar, Norway
Distance (km): 51.596
Equipment: Graeme Obree-style “praying mantis” handlebar/round steel tubing frame/carbon tri-spoke wheels

Chris Boardman (July 23, 1993)

Age: 24
Velodrome: Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux
Distance (km): 52.270
Equipment: triathlon handlebar/carbon airfoil tubing frame/carbon 4-spoke wheels

Francesco Moser (January 15, 1994)

Age: 42
Velodrome: Mexico City
Distance (km): 51.840
Equipment: Graeme Obree-style “praying mantis” handlebar/chest-pad on top frame/wheels unknown – UCI VETERAN’s RECORD [*]

Graeme Obree (April 27, 1994)

Age: 28
Velodrome: Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux
Distance (km): 52.713
Equipment: Graeme Obree-style “praying mantis” handlebar/round steel tubing frame/carbon tri-spoke wheels

Miguel Indurain (September 2, 1994)

Age: 30
Velodrome: Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux
Distance (km): 53.040
Equipment: wide triathlon handlebar/carbon monocoque aero frame/disk wheels

Tony Rominger (October 22, 1994)

Age: 33
Velodrome: Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux
Distance (km): 53.832
Equipment: triathlon handlebar/oval steel tubing frame/disk wheels

Tony Rominger (November 5, 1994)

Age: 33
Velodrome: Velodrome du Lac, Bordeaux
Distance (km): 55.291
Equipment: triathlon handlebar/oval steel tubing frame/disk wheels

Chris Boardman (September 6, 1996)

Age: 28
Velodrome: Manchester, UK
Distance (km): 56.375
Equipment: Graeme Obree “superman-style” handlebar/carbon monocoque aero frame/5-spoke front & rear disk wheels

UCI hour record (1984–2014)

With the increasing gap between modern bicycles and what was available at the time of Merckx’s record, the UCI established two records:

  1. the UCI Hour Record (which restricts competitors to roughly the same equipment as Merckx, disallowing time trial helmets, disc or tri-spoke wheels, aero bars and monocoque frames)
  2. the Best Human Effort – sometimes termed the UCI “Absolute” Record.

All records since 1972, including Boardman’s 56.375 km (35.030 mi) in 1996 were downgraded to Best Human Effort. In 2000, Boardman attempted the UCI record on a traditional bike, and rode 49.441 km (30.721 mi), topping Merckx by 10 m (32.8 ft) – an improvement of 0.02%.

In 2005 Ondřej Sosenka improved Boardman’s performance at 49.700 km (30.882 mi) using a 54×13 gear. At 200 cm (6 ft 6¾ in) tall, Sosenka used an unusual saddle position and a small vertical frame height to stay within UCI regulations. Sosenka failed a doping control in 2001 and then again in 2008, the latter resulting in a career-ending in suspension which puts in doubt the validity of his record.

UCI unified hour record (2014–present)

In 2014, the UCI unified the two classifications into a single classification in line with regulations for current track pursuit bikes. Records previously removed for Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree were returned, however, the benchmark record would remain at 49.7 km (30.9 mi) set in 2005 by Ondřej Sosenka, even though that was not the farthest distance. Under the new regulations, riders may use any bike allowed by the UCI standards for endurance track events in place at the time of the attempt.

Riders are required to be part of the athlete biological passport program. However, of the men to attempt the record since the rule change, only two were on a UCI World Tour team at the time: Rohan Dennis of the BMC Racing Team and Alex Dowsett of the Movistar Team.

Jens Voigt had recently retired from cycling, last riding with Trek Factory Racing. Matthias Brändle was with IAM Cycling, then a UCI Professional Continental team. Jack Bobridge was on Team Budget Forklifts, an Australian UCI Continental team. Thomas Dekker had been released from the World Tour team Garmin-Sharp several months before. Gustav Larsson was riding for the Professional Continental team Cult Energy Pro Cycling, whilst Bradley Wiggins had left the World Tour’s Team Sky shortly before his attempt, which was made in the colors of his own UCI Continental outfit WIGGINS.

Teams are less important in the hour record attempts; bike manufacturers are more important; Jens Voigt’s bid was supported by Trek Bicycle Corporation, who sponsored his former team, while Rohan Dennis’ attempt was sponsored by BMC Trading, who similarly sponsor his team.

[*] The veteran’s record set by Moser in 1994 was faster than his more celebrated record in 1984 when he used a bullhorn handlebar, steel airfoil tubing, disk wheels, and skinsuit. Moser was inspired by Obree’s bike and wanted a copy.

The bike Moser rode on his veteran’s record had a praying mantis handlebar and Obree-style frame, with a chest-pad addition. It was also faster than Obree’s first record in 1993. Had Moser ridden Obree’s bike before Obree did, Moser might have held the official record at age 42.

Moser was riding before UCI rule changes were to be put in effect by May 7 of that year. These were to out-law the Obree praying mantis style.

Miguel Indurain breaks the hour record in 1994.
Miguel Indurain breaks the hour record in 1994.
Movistar tweet about Miguel Indurain's Hour Record
Looks like things between Movistar and Pinarello did not end well: Movistar tweets about the 20th year from Indurain 1994 hour record and PHOTOSHOPS the photo to CANCEL “Pinarello” from the image. The original photo is below.
Miguel Indurain breaking the Hour Record
Miguel Indurain breaking the Hour Record

Sources

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