British rider Sarah Storey came up short in her bid to beat Leontien Van Moorsel’s twelve year world hour record, covering a distance of 45.502 kilometres in Lee Valley VeloPark in London on Saturday and missing out by fractionally over half a kilometre.
Riding courageously, the multiple British Paralympic gold medallist dug in as deep as possible but taking on the pace set by one of the most successful female riders of all time proved to be too much.
Van Moorsel’s record of 46.065 kilometres was set at altitude in Mexico in 2003, and had remained unbeaten since then. Storey opted to go at sea level and was riding in a velodrome heated to approximately 25 degrees Celsius, facing two disadvantages from the off, but still believed that it might be possible to take the record.
“I feel like have got ants in my pants,” she said afterwards with a smile. “I was hit by cramp in the top of my legs; it’s hard to try to keep as low as possible during the test.
“It was definitely the hardest hour of my life. In the first half hour you are thinking ‘oh my goodness, I haven’t done 30 minutes yet.’ It was really tough.”
Lining out in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Olympic velodrome at Lee Valley, Storey appeared nervous before the start but quickly got into her rhythm. She appeared to be ahead of schedule at the five kilometre point, and did 20 laps in just over six minutes.
Storey was setting average lap times of approximately 19.3 seconds, which was what she was aiming for. At the ten kilometre point she went through in a time of 12 minutes 59.247 seconds, which was -0.023 seconds faster than Van Moorsel’s time at that same point.
From there her pace slipped back to 19.5 and 19.6 second laps, meaning she had slowed slightly after her start. She reached the 20 kilometre point in 25 minutes 59.650 seconds, just 0.779 seconds off Van Moorsel’s pace.
UCI president Brian Cookson spoke during the attempt and described Storey’s decision to take on the women’s hour record after such a long gap as fantastic.
“We are really, really pleased and excited to see Sarah throwing down the gauntlet and really going for it,” he said. “We want to do as much as we can to help women’s cycling develop and Sarah is a brilliant role model, both as an Olympian and a Paralympic athlete.”
Storey was aware that she was setting an example for others and also potentially getting the ball rolling on a new flurry of efforts. She was determined to eke out every possible metre and was hugging the black line on the track to shorten the distance.
However, at the halfway point, she had slipped to ten seconds off Van Moorsel’s pace and knew that she had to try to step things up.
The battle with the clock continued to be a difficult one. She reached the 30 kilometre distance in a time of 39 minutes 0.34 seconds, which was 19.949 seconds outside the record. She dug in to try to get the time back but was still behind at the 40 kilometre point. This made her task increasingly tough.
Storey did manage to raise her pace inside the final ten minutes, increasing her lap times to 19.6 seconds, then 19.4 seconds and appearing visibly faster than she had been. Pushed on by the crowd’s cheers, she hammered the pedals around and looked more like she was finishing an individual pursuit.
However that courageous surge wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit to Van Moorsel and she had to be satisfied with a very commendable 45.502 kilometres.
Storey crossed the line and had to be helped from her bike. She was visibly in a huge amount of pain and after sitting on a chair by the track, slid off and ended up lying flat on the ground. She was attended by medics but was able to regain her composure after several minutes and return to the chair.
She didn’t get the record, but had the consolation of recording the second-fastest time under the regulations for permitted equipment. Her time was over 400 metres faster than the previous second best, the 45.094 kilometres clocked by Jeannie Longo in December 2000.
Given that Longo was also one of the very best riders of all time, the quality of Storey’s ride was obvious.
She broke the British record and also those of the C5 Paralympic and masters’ categories. She expressed satisfaction with that.
“It is amazing, actually,” she smiled. “I came in here hoping to go further than the 46, but it was not to be today. But for me that was the fastest I could have gone in the hour. To break the British record is fantastic.
“I was hoping to go further than anyone else but unfortunately it was not to be. Leontien was an incredible athlete and there’s no shame in missing out to her.”
You can watch Storey’s hour record bid below.