Stevens on track to set new UCI Hour Record

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As the saying goes, it’s not practice that makes perfect, but rather perfect practice that makes perfect.

If so, American Evelyn Stevens appears poised to set a new Hour Record on February 27.

During a perfect practice session Thursday with her coach, Neal Henderson, at the 7-Eleven U.S. Olympic Training Center Velodrome in Colorado Springs, Stevens either hit or surpassed all of her targets, nine days before she takes on the Hour Record in the same location.

Fresh off a week in Arizona, where she  trained on Mount Lemmon and finished second in the Valley of the Sun time trial (to Allie Dragoo of TWENTY16 Ridebiker), Stevens appeared relaxed and fit during a 90-minute workout.

Aboard a Specialized Shiv TT frame equipped with front and rear Zipp disc wheels (a narrower Zipp 900 front, and wider, stiffer Zipp Super 9 rear), Stevens rode six 5-kilometre “progressive-pace” efforts, each faster than the last, topping out at 50kph, a pace that would break the record and exceed her target distance of 48kph.

The current women’s UCI Hour Record, ridden on a bike allowed under UCI standards for endurance track events, is 46.882km set by Bridie O’Donnell on January 22 in Adelaide, Australia.

France’s Jeannie Longo set the all-time women’s Hour Record of 48.159 km in Mexico City in 1996, using an aerodynamic position wrapped around every technological advantage available. That effort is classified in what is sometimes referred to as either the “absolute record,” “best human effort,” or “best performance.”

Like Chris Boardman’s 56.375 km ride, also in 1996, the UCI does not classify Longo’s effort as part of its unified hour record, established in 2014, bringing together times ridden on modern track pursuit bikes.

Henderson, a CyclingTips columnist who coached Rohan Dennis to his Hour Record in February 2015, has made it clear that their goal is to best Longo’s record.

On Thursday in Colorado Springs, that looked promising.

Starting with a 5km effort at 40kph, Stevens upped the pace by 2kph for each 15-lap effort over the 333.3m covered cement track.

The goal, Henderson said, was to start well below goal pace, and to finish above goal pace.

Six 5km progressive-pace efforts on 333m track
30.0 sec laps (40kph)
28.6 sec laps (42kph)
27.3 sec laps (44 kph)
26.1 sec laps (46kph)
Break, to change gear ratio
25.0 sec laps (48kph)
24.0 sec laps (50kph)
15 minutes motor pacing (50kph)

With several wireless monitors and transmitters sending realtime data to Henderson’s laptop, he was able monitor Stevens’ speed, cadence, power, heart rate, and the muscle oxygen level in her quadriceps muscle.

“An Hour Record attempt is a blend of aerodynamics, fitness, physiology, motivation, technology, and logistics,” Henderson said.

Former American pro Davis Phinney was on hand to help out; Stevens is staying with the Phinney family in Boulder, 90 minutes north of Colorado Springs, in the lead-up to the Hour Record attempt.

After each 5km effort Henderson conducted a track-side blood lactate test in order to gauge the physiological effect of the effort.

Stevens rode the first four efforts on a 54×15 gear. After her fourth effort, at 46kph, Henderson changed the gear ratio, though he wouldn’t disclose the gearing.

“We’re going to keep that to ourselves for now,” Henderson said. “We’ll tell you after the Hour Record attempt. Probably.”

Coach Neal Henderson administers a blood lactate test to Evelyn Stevens during an Hour Record practice session in Colorado Springs, February 2016. Photo: James Huang.
Coach Neal Henderson takes a blood lactate sample from Evelyn Stevens during an Hour Record practice session in Colorado Springs, February 2016. Photo: James Huang.

Located at 6,035 feet (1839 metres) elevation, the 7-Eleven Velodrome was built in 1982 to provide high-altitude training for American cyclists leading up to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. It was covered last year, though the cover is collapsable and will come off during the summer months.

Henderson said that due to lower air density, the elevation in Colorado Springs provides an advantage of between one and two kilometers per hour over sea level, depending on speed.

Longo’s record, in Mexico City, was set on a 333m wooden velodrome, at 2,240 metres (7349 feet) elevation.

Temperature during Thursday’s practice session was 17.1C (62.8 F).For the February 27 test, the covered 7-Eleven velodrome will be heated to 20C (68F); warmer air has less density than cooler air.

External temperature was unseasonably warm, at 20 C (68 F), and windy. Barometric pressure was about 810 millibars, which Henderson said was good.

Barometric pressure is a function of weather and altitude; in terms of the Hour Record, the lower the barometric pressure, the better.

Stevens rode comfortably during the first five efforts. During the 46kph effort, her fourth, Henderson said her heart rate was 15 beats per minute below threshold. During her 48kph effort, which saw an increase in blood lactate levels, her heart rate hovered around 145bpm, peaking at 150bpm, still below threshold.

After her sixth effort, which Stevens said was difficult, she spent 15 minutes following Henderson at 50kph on an electric motorcycle, to develop leg speed.

“This [motor pacing] is not a physiological stress, but rather a neurological stress,” Henderson said. “Her power will be lower, but it will help her learn how to match the cadence with the speed, and get accustomed to taking the banking at that speed.”

Henderson also shot GoPro video from the motor bike, which he said would help Stevens visualize pacing at race speed.

“The 48kph effort was good,” Stevens said. “The 50kph effort was really hard for me, it felt more like turning the gear was the hardest part, but 48 felt comfortable. I’ve only been at altitude for a few days.”

Stevens will race the clock aboard similar Shiv to the bike she trained on, though with a different paint scheme and race tires, and utilzing ceramic bearings in the bottom bracket, both hubs, and the pedals, which she was not training with on Thursday.

In addition to a warmer velodrome on the 27th, she’ll also be better acclimated to the altitude. Though far from sea level, the altitude in Arizona, where Stevens spent the last week, is about half that of Colorado Springs.

On the 27th, Stevens knows that all eyes will be on her. Unlike any other race she’s done, an Hour Record is solely about one rider.

“I don’t think I actually thought about that, and t’s not necessarily an element about it that I love,” Stevens said. “For me, it’s more that I wanted something to focus on. I’ve never done this before, and I want to see how deep I can push myself.”

First, however, there is more training to be done.

On Saturday, Stevens will complete a 30-minute effort, from 11:30am to 12:00pm.

One week later, she’ll ride all out, for an hour — likely setting a new world record.

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