Meeting expectations and smashing the previous record set on May 2 by Alex Dowsett, Bradley Wiggins covered a staggering 54.526 kilometres in his UCI hour record on Sunday.
The British rider followed his pre-stated strategy, reaching that pace inside the first 20 minutes and sticking very close to it for the remainder of his effort. While he was up to an average pace of over 54.6 kilometres for much of the effort, he slowed very fractionally in the last ten minutes.
Despite that, his pace eclipsed that of Dowsett, who covered 52.937 on May 2 in Manchester.
“I am just glad it’s done,” he said afterwards. “I said that is the closest I will ever come to knowing what it is like to have a baby. It was just torturous. You are just constantly looking at the clock, counting down the minutes. I am just really relieved that it is done now, because it has been such a long build-up since Paris-Roubaix.
“We have been through a lot as a little team. My wife and children know more about air pressure now than anyone. Like I said, I am just glad it is over now. When you are out there you never think it is going to come to an end. It is done now.”
Wiggins had said beforehand that he was confident of breaking the record, but hoped to possibly go as far as 55.25 kilometres. As things turned out he fell short of that mark, with his coach Heiko Salzwedel pointing out that the high air pressure made that goal very difficult.
When asked about this, Wiggins didn’t dwell on this point. “You know, I always compare myself to the greats. I am just glad to be in the company of those guys, Miguel [Indurain], [Tony] Rominger, Chris [Boardman]. Just to get up there and do that.
“Just to get up there and put yourself on the line takes a lot of courage. Like I said, it is a mental game more than a physical one. It is tough.”
Riding to plan
Wiggins started fractionally earlier than had been scheduled and quickly got into a very low tuck on the Lee Valley VeloPark track. He was wearing the colours of his new Wiggins’ team and a gold track helmet, presumably coloured that way to signify his Olympic gold medal.
By lap 12 he had averaged just over 53 kilometres per hour. He had publicly stated that he had been training at a 54 kilometre average pace and rumours suggested he had done at least one ride of 55 kilometres per hour.
However concerns were expressed Sunday about the high air pressure, prompting some to say this would slow him slightly.
The UCI hour record coverage included segments of pre-recorded quotes from Wiggins, with the first talking about the initial first fifth of his effort and his expectations for that period.
“The first 12 minutes is pretty much free – you are going at a pace that as fast as you can go for an hour,” he said. “It should be easy, you should be able to get off after that and you are fine. The last 12 minutes, though, will be horrific. Probably the hardest thing you will ever do.”
It appeared the pacing was correct, with estimates put him 18 seconds ahead of Dowsett at the 40 lap point. The latter had been slower, but had appeared to be staying closer to the black line on the track. That was somewhat surprising, given Wiggins’ far greater track experience.
With 20 minutes elapsed he had averaged 54.556 kilometres per hour, putting him almost a minute inside the pace set by Dowsett just over a month earlier. His speed continued to inch upwards. With 25 minutes done he was at 54.601 kilometres; after 30 minutes, at the halfway point, his average was up to 54.621.
Wiggins remained focussed but the effort was starting to tell on his position on the track. His front wheel was wavering and he rose above the red line on several occasions. Still, it wasn’t having a significant effect on that average speed, which was 54.62 kilometres per hour after 35 minutes. At that point he was almost 80 seconds quicker than Dowsett had been to reach that point.
Digging in as pace drops slightly
Wiggins’ average speed had stabilised and remained almost precisely the same through 40 and then 45 minutes. His face was starting to grimace, showing the effort of keeping such a momentum going as time passed. Still, he was a minute and 40 seconds quicker than Dowsett at that distance, making it certain that unless he fell off, he would set a new world’s best.
As Wiggins himself predicted, the final segment was brutal. It was also telling, with his pace ebbing somewhat by the 50 minute mark. His head was starting to drop and he started the final ten minutes with an accumulated average of 54.591.
The crowd noticed this and started to roar more loudly, willing him on. Their exhortations appeared to help him and while he continued to slow slightly, he was still at 54.553 kilometres per hour average with five minutes left. He hit lap 200 at the same point, one minute and 47 seconds quicker than Dowsett did.
Wiggins headed into the final three minutes and was showing clear effort on his face. The crowd were standing, shouting and he continued to dig in, knowing that his mark could well stand for a long time and he would likely never have to make such an effort again.
He finished to huge cheers, allowing his bike to drift up the banking and his pace to wind down, and then dismounted to embrace his family.
“I am over the moon,” said his coach Heiko Salzwedel. “I really say that. That was one of the highlights of my career and Bradley’s career. We will share this memory for a very long time.”
He admitted to some nervous moments. “I saw that Bradley was running out of gas,” he said, referring to the final portion of the ride. “He was fighting, fighting, I never saw him fighting his hard before.”
Salzwedel confirmed that the conditions were not as good as they had hoped, and that this might open the door for someone else to beat the record in the future. “Was had an incredible high air pressure,” he stated, “it made it very sticky here. He pushed the bar very high, but not high enough.”
Asked how the new record ranked when compared to the achievements of his career, Wiggins said it was the perfect addition. “It just tops it off,” he said. “As I said earlier in the week, if this was the only thing I ever did in my career, perhaps this would have done a little bit unnoticed. But to do everything and to come here still as an old man… I mean, I said this week, the old home straight at Eastway used to be about here [points to the track]. I had such great memories coming around here as a kid and to come back and do this here is fantastic.
“I didn’t get to race here in the Olympics. I saw up there watching it. This is memorable, it really is.”