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Speaking prior to Rohan Dennis’ big bid on Sunday to take the UCI world hour record, BMC Racing Team trainer Marco Pinotti has detailed the preparations for the Australian’s attack on the mark and spoken about the obstacles to be overcome.
The former professional began the final block of work with Dennis on Saturday after the latter flew back to Europe following his overall victory in the Santos Tour Down Under.
That stage race success showed his form is very strong, but Pinotti said that there was a complication that has to be completely negated in order for Dennis to be in the right position to attack the hour record mark.
“Rohan arrived here [in Switzerland] five days after he won the Tour Down Under,” Pinotti told CyclingTips. “We will be here for a total of eight days before the attempt.
“I think for sure Rohan is in very good form, as can be seen from his winning the race like Down Under ahead of Richie Porte and Cadel [Evans]. I think it is the best win so far in his career.
“So the form is good. But he was travelling overseas with a ten hour jetlag and that is serious.
“We have had to manage the jet lag very well. That is a bit of a challenge with him, to ensure he is able to perform. We need to make sure he can use his actual form and not to lose it due to jet lag or travelling.”
Pinotti said that the most important factor in Dennis’ overcoming of those issues was how he handled the first three days after he arrived in Switzerland. “He arrived Saturday. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were mostly about recovering from jet lag and getting his body clock aligned to Euro time.
“Yesterday and today [Thursday] we did some testing on equipment and a little bit on his fitness. After that it is too late as he needs to recover for Sunday.
“So those two days were the days that he has spent most of the time on the track. We tried to get as much information as possible to have a good pacing strategy for Sunday and to possibly beat the record.”
New wave of attempts
The hour record has seen a resurgence in recent months, with a relaxation in previous rules constraining the use of modern equipment prompting more riders and teams to consider mounting bids.
Jens Voigt was the first in the recent wave of bids attack the record. His effort took place on September 18 at the Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, Switzerland, and saw him cover 51.110 kilometres for a new record.
That was beaten on October 30 by Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), who covered 51.852 kilometres in the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland.
Australia’s Jack Bobridge tried to push things out further last Saturday when he underwent his own 60 minute sufferfest in Melbourne’s DISC velodrome. However he only travelled 51.3 kilometres, coming up slightly over 500 metres short.
Asked if he believed that Dennis could succeed where Bobridge did not, Pinotti was cautiously optimistic.
“We start with the goal of beating the record. Bobridge had the same target. The question mark is Rohan has to deal with the jet lag and we haven’t really done a full test. We have only done shorter tests. So it is not easy to know.
“But, based on his feelings and other feedback, we are confident that the record is within his possibilities.”
That said, he is also aware that it will be crucial to do everything right.
“We know from Bobridge’s example that at a certain point after the hour, you arrive in a new area,” he admitted. “It will become a more mental challenge after perhaps 35 or 40 minutes. It will become a new ground for him. There is always an element of unpredictability.”
That uncertainty is what makes the hour record so fascinating; no matter how good a rider’s credentials or experience look on paper, there is no way of knowing exactly how things will play out on the day.
For example, Miguel Indurain was unbeatable against the clock on the road, yet only bettered amateur rider Graeme Obree’s previous record by 327 metres in April 1994.
As for Obree, he had come out of practically nowhere – in world terms at least – to beat Francesco Moser’s long-standing record nine months earlier.
Correct strategy is crucial
Pinotti watched footage of Bobridge’s unsuccessful attempt on Saturday and saw how even a top rider can get things wrong in attacking the record.
“There are people with more expertise than me and they said that he went too hard at the start,” he said, talking about what went amiss. “He was doing 55 kilometres per hour early on and the first four kilometres was like a good team pursuit.
“That’s something you shouldn’t do. The start is when you produce the most lactate and then its peak arrives a few minutes later. Using that gear on the track [Bobridge increased his gearing just prior to the event] means it is hard to accelerate again when you slow down.
“Unless you come from months of preparation when you know exactly that you can hold this power for one hour, it is better to start a little bit conservatively and then see how it feels.
“It is an hour effort so you should get to the point where you have to deal with your limits. I think you need to wait for this moment to arrive and don’t look for it at the start.”
In other words, coax the body along rather than putting it under too much pressure too early.
Pinotti’s words mirror what Obree told CyclingTips on Saturday, speaking shortly after Bobridge’s unsuccessful attempt.
The two-time hour record holder said that pacing was crucial and that the erratic lap times displayed by the Australian made things much more difficult for him than might otherwise have been.
Instead, he suggested that Bobridge should have shadowed the previous record and then opened things up in the final half hour to twenty minutes.
Pinotti said he was in full agreement with Obree. “Based on the numbers and the potential the rider has, you can start maybe a little bit faster or a little bit slower [than the existing record]. But the goal is to settle into a pace from the beginning that is not too demanding on the body. When you settle in, then the riders have the feeling for where they can go after that.
“The time you gain at the beginning you are going to pay at the end, if you are not 100 percent sure if you can keep this. So it is better to have a slightly negative split.
“All the records that have been done in the marathon are with slightly negative splits; 49.5 per cent of the distance is covered in the first half [of the effort] and 50.5 per cent in the second half.
“This is the strategy that seems to work most in this kind of record.”
Gauging feel and effort is paramount
There is one clear complication with the hour record while comparing it to road time trials: the riders are not allowed to use any on board speed measurement system or power meter.
With each lap taking less than 20 seconds, it is very easy to be slightly too fast or too slow. Over time, that builds up in terms of either overcooking things or else not going rapidly enough.
Instead, feedback from the rider’s coach is vital.
“The rider will only have his trainer on the inside track. He will give him information about the time of the lap, going backwards or forwards from the line to show that,” he said.
“The rider will be able to see a countdown of the minutes, plus a count of the laps. But he cannot have any information about power.
“That is what makes it so tricky. It is easy for me to say while sitting here that you need to go 17.5 seconds every lap and then go to 17.3 seconds. But you need to pace it.
“The riders all have lots of track experience so on paper they are more experienced in pacing themselves than other road riders in general. But Bobridge showed that it is not guaranteed that you can follow it.”
Pinotti said that last Saturday’s attempt will have brought home one thing to Dennis, and also to all the other riders who tackle the hour: no matter how strong the rider, strategy is everything.
“What he showed was just a big reminder of the critical importance of pacing,” he explained. “It was something we already knew, but this was a big reminder.
“In this way I think it will help Rohan and the future riders who will try to attempt the record.”
In speaking to Pinotti, there’s one final consideration to be addressed: why did Dennis elect to do the record attempt in Grenchen, Switzerland, rather than going to altitude as the Dutchman Thomas Dekker will?
Pinotti accepts that there is an advantage to doing hour bids at higher velodromes. He said that the altitude makes it more difficult on a rider’s physiology but, providing that rider has dedicated four to six weeks for adaptation, that this hampering effect can be minimised.
At the same time, the lower barometric pressure makes it easier for the rider to move through air and thus increases his speed.
Pinotti believes the combined effects can be more positive than negative, but said that three considerations led Dennis and the BMC Racing Team to decide on doing the bid in Switzerland.
“Rohan has other goals this season,” he said. “If you do it at sea level, you can do what we are doing now at the same time as preparation for the road races. But if you do it at altitude, you need to dedicate four to six weeks training there so that you are fully adapted.”
Dennis has a pro contract and other obligations; Dekker, in contrast, doesn’t have a current deal for the season and so isn’t compelled to do certain races before or after his bid.
The second factor Pinotti points out is that some of the high altitude velodromes are either outdoor or aren’t fully contained; Cali, for example, has open sides and can be affected by wind.
In contrast, the track in Switzerland is a more controlled environment, both in terms of a lack of wind and also in relation to temperature.
And another additional reason exists: the team’s connection to the Grenchen track. “[Team owner] Andy Rihs was one of the biggest contributors to the velodrome. It is a sort of house velodrome for the BMC team,” said Pinotti.
“Because of all of these things, we never considered the option of going to altitude.”
Instead, Dennis will undertake the most difficult time trial of his life in the Swiss venue on Sunday. He’s worked hard to get ready, he’s had the assistance of people like Pinotti. He’s also had a bike specially constructed to try to help him slice through the air.
After that, he’s all on his own. He’s got sixty minutes to maintain focus, to endure the pain and eke out as much power and pacing as possible.
Sixty minutes of torture, but also sixty minutes that can enable him to make history.