Responding to Jack Bobridge’s unsuccessful attempt on Saturday to take the world hour record, former holder Graeme Obree has urged the Australian to consider trying again.
Obree set the hour record twice during the 1990s, first beating it on July 17 1993 in Norway. He was deposed by Chris Boardman but seized it again on April 27 1994.
On the first of those successful attempts, Obree’s effort actually came 24 hours after he had tried, and failed, to break the record.
On that occasion he was almost a kilometres slower than the previous standard set by Francesco Moser.
Undeterred, Obree returned the following day and covered 51.596 kilometres, some 445 metres faster than Moser’s 51.151 kilometres, thus achieving his target.
That experience plus the fact that Bobridge appeared to have got his pacing strategy wrong has prompted Obree to suggest the Australian should seriously consider going again.
“I watched Bobridge’s attempt and I felt sorry for him,” he told CyclingTips on Saturday, speaking by phone while in the course of a training ride in freezing conditions.
“There is no tactics or hiding place, it is awful. I think he should consider trying again, because where he is now is an awful place to be in.
“He has to fast forward ten or twenty years from now and think of it as him looking back to now. He will be saying, ‘my goodness, I should have put another effort in.’
“He has got the physical ability, so if he doesn’t try again he will regret it in 20 years time.”
Why history suggests it is possible
Bobridge said after his attempt that it was the hardest effort he’d ever done on the bike and that he would take serious convincing to give it another shot. Obree argues he should commit to one more try, and also suggests he needs to do it as soon as possible.
“When Bradley [Wiggins] steps up it will be out of his reach and he will never have got it,” he said. “He will be like, ‘I should have stepped up like others did.’ Otherwise it will be, ‘I never got it’ and that’s not the place to be.”
Bobridge was vying to improve upon Matthias Brandle’s 51.852km benchmark. He began in a very aggressive manner, reaching over 55 kilometres per hour and holding an average of 54 kilometres per hour for over ten minutes. However, as this graph shows, he had gone into the red, and his pace dropped steadily after that.
— Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport) January 31, 2015
Although he was still on course for 52 kilometres at the halfway point, his speed continued to fall and he eventually had to be satisfied with 51.3 kilometres. It’s quite a way off Brandle’s record and even further away from what Bobridge himself felt he was capable of.
Remember: this is the rider who smashed Boardman’s once-unassailable pursuit record. The Briton had covered 4000 metres in a staggering 4 minutes 11.114 seconds in 1996, using the faster – and subsequently banned – superman position invented by Obree.
Bobridge was using a more conventional setup but nevertheless clocked four minutes 10.534 seconds in the 2011 Australian nationals. That ride stunned many, and that achievement plus his recent good form shows that he simply didn’t achieve his potential on Saturday.
In fact, Obree aside, Moser’s own example shows that a second attempt can often be better than the first. Back in January 1984 the Italian covered 50.808 kilometres at altitude in Mexico. Unsatisfied with that, he tried again four days later and went 343 metres faster, setting a mark of 51.151 kilometres.
“Moser stepped up in Mexico city, he went back after three or four days and went quicker,” Obree said. “So the precedent is that if he waits three or four days and goes again – actually, maybe four or five days would be better – then it’s possible. He just needs turns his legs over in that time, recovering, then try again.
“He just has to do 52 kilometres and get his name up there. He has to redeem that if he can.”
”It’s back against the wall time”
The notion of getting back in the saddle, arms on the tri bars, and repeating the toughest athletic experience he has ever had will not appeal to Bobridge. Speaking after Saturday’s effort, he was clear on how much he suffered.
“I can’t even explain how much pain my glutes and quads are in,” he told CyclingTips’ Matt de Neef. “That’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done and will ever do.”
Still, the principle of negative splits [riding faster in the second half of a effort than in the first] is well known and recognised as being the best strategy for pacing. The fact that Bobridge did the opposite explains just why he suffered as much as he did; his body was in the red almost from the off, and he was simply trying to hang on rather than building things up.
Obree is clear on what he believes the correct strategy would be. “If you start slow, you can speed up in the end if you have still got it,” he said.
“He should do a certain pace, exactly what he needs to break that record. Stick exactly to that schedule and just see if you can step it up slightly and get a cushion. Once you get that, you can see what the cushion is and then you can work out what more you can do.
“Maybe he needs to take control as a rider. I was very much, ‘I am the boss here’ when I went for it. If there are too many bosses, he can’t take control.
“I think he should do the first half or 40 minutes on schedule, then just add what he can after that.”
Speaking 14 years after he set his own mark back in 1993, Obree talked about the frame of mind he was in when he returned the day after first failing in his objective.
“I was Butch Cassidy in terms of swagger,” he told the Telegraph. “I didn’t want any negativity. This was blitzkrieg. I’m going in there. Let me do it. I’m not going to be the timorous guy from Scotland.
“That’s what the difference was. Purely mental state. The day before, I had been a mouse. Now I was a lion.”
He feels that if Bobridge can get himself into the same frame of mind, the record could well be his.
“It would be back against the wall time, and that is when you get the best result. That gets the best out of you,” he reasons.
“It certainly it is not a great situation as things are right now. I saw him lying there. With the silence of the crowd, it was like somebody died.
“You can’t leave it like that.”