The New Era

The New Era

Jens Voigt has broken the hour record. It’s a simple statement, a declaration where the fact is beyond the reach of debate. He broke a record that is cycling itself, that is an aspiration no one needs to explain, an exploration of power so pure it leaves non-cyclists breathless. The wonder of the feat is staggering. His mark of 51.115km works out to 31.76 miles for those of us who still think in English units. Most of the world sees numbers like those only on a downhill, or only in a group, and even then, only for seconds at a time.

This is an achievement that bears repeating: Jens Voigt has broken the hour record.

Such a statement elicits two simultaneous reactions. On one hand there’s the of course that comes with Voigt’s reputation for spending time anywhere but in the pack. A breakaway at the Amgen Tour of California was incomplete unless Voigt was there, gutting it out to the final kilometer. He was a favorite because he was never afraid of the hard work; he burned watts like a Hummer burns gas—without reserve. But he was also a favorite because he had a human side; he would admit that what he did was painful. We loved how he rode because he wasn’t stoic and in that, we could see our own pain. He made it that much easier for us to see just how different we are from the great pros. It was the perfect lens for admiration.

For those of us who follow pro racing closely, there was a second reaction to the news. Jens Voigt? Really? Not Fabian Cancellara, not Tony Martin, not Taylor Phinney. Jens “Shut Up Legs” Voigt?! Oh, it’s on; there’s no way this will be the only attempt of the decade.

Shut Up Legs

Voigt’s bike sponsor, Trek, did the record a service by live streaming the event for cyclists everywhere to watch. It was easily the most-witnessed hour record in history. As folks say, seeing is believing.

Through the 20th century, the hour record was the mark of kings, men whose names are synonymous with cycling itself: Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Giuseppe Olmo, Lucien Petit-Breton. It has been a sleepy mark for most of this century, though. It’s been tackled only twice, by Ondrej Sosenka, whose efforts lifted only the “athletic” record, that is, the record as referencing Merckx’ 49.431 mark set in 1972 in Mexico City. In his first attempt, in 2000, he added but 10 meters. A second attempt, in 2005, saw him add nearly 300 meters. But that’s been it, largely because of the UCI’s completely backward rules demanding riders ride a bike similar to Merckx’ ’72 bike that had smothered interest in the hour record like a blanket over a flame.

The 1990s were a time of considerable interest and effort on the hour record. The salvo opened with Graeme Obree’s Hamar, Norway, 51.596km record on July 17, 1993. The mark would fall six more times over the next three years, with records set by Obree, Chris Boardman, Tony Rominger and five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain, culminating in Boardman’s 56.375km stunner that still stands as the UCI’s “best human effort.” For Hein Verbruggen, a man who proved to be okay with advances in biology but not technology, that was the last straw. The UCI mandated that any further efforts on the hour record would take on Eddy Merckx on his turf, with spoked wheels, drop bars and a traditional frame design. The effect was like inviting the cops to a block party—everybody split.

It was Brian Cookson who showed up with a fresh keg, so to speak. Let there be no mistake, this event would never have taken place had Cookson not been elected president of the UCI. The rule changes that made the record interesting to Voigt were part of the sweeping changes that Cookson instituted upon arrival. The UCI may not be perfect, but it’s far less capricious than it once was.

Voigt rode a track-specific version of Trek’s Speed Concept, a bike otherwise marketed as a triathlon model, and used front and rear discs—actual technology. The combination of an admired rider, someone universally respected as a fast guy, and a bike with an identifiable aerodynamic edge has done more than just etch Voigt’s name into the record books; it has made the mark fresh again. Years from now, we may look back on September 18, 2014, as the day that the hour was granted a new lease on the imagination, that Voigt’s effort inspired his colleagues to take their own swing.

Ambition is its own light, one bright enough to show the future.

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  1. MLC40

    And he did it at age 43. Shut up, calendar.

    On that note, if you have a chance to see the movie Marinoni by Tony Girardin, do it. It’s about a retired racer and frame builder who attempts to set the one-hour record for his age group at 75, using a bike he built for Jocelyn Lovell in the 1970’s.

  2. jorgensen

    About 1.6km more than 1972, with a wind tunnel optimized position and attire, aero frame, disc wheels and on an indoor track. In percentage terms the gain is not that much given the improvement of equipment and training. Yes, Merckx was at altitude, but the track was outdoors. I think there will be a number who make an attempt now, so for that the review of the regulations is to the good. I think this record will be one of the less durable marks though.

  3. Murray

    Thank you beautifly written.
    Here’s the thing.
    My story. I was at work. I found the stream. (Thank you. Trek). I was glued to it. Then a coworker ( tri geek)came in and was glued. We had to go to a big meeting. While we waited for it to start I had the feed on my phone. Then others in my team were curious. With Two minutes to go the client showed up. We all sat down with all my team guickly looking at me for a final result. I had my phone concealed and the client was not aware. However when he crossed the line I smiled and the group who were soo new and curious smiled and understood. Something special had just happened. The Hour is back and new fans were made. Thank you Jens. You did it proud.

  4. bwebel

    I’m glad to see the interest in the Hour again, but I’m not sure that I would really agree with giving Voigt the title as world hour record holder. Even if you want to not recognize Boardman’s superman position record, looking back at Rominger’s bike (, it looks to me like it would qualify under current rules, so should the title not go to him?

    Of course, assuming that Martin or Wiggins, or the like, goes for the record soon, Voigt won’t be there long. I’d guess that if Martin or Wiggins are serious about it and have a good ride they could go over Boardman’s 56.3 as well.

    1. Grego

      Rominger used different size wheels front and rear, which is not legal under the UCI rules. The rules are somewhat silly, and changing them around many times is silly, but without some rules for the hour-for-bikes-that-look-mostly-like-uci-pro-racing-bikes, you get this (img), and nobody is going to pay to see Jens Voigt pilot a Varna Tempest down 60 miles of highway. (I might pay, though, to see him try to use it on a track.)

      To contrast, though, Sam Whittingham rode a Tempest 90.59km (56.29mi) in one hour, which is the present human-powered record, and though they’re not really comparable, 177% of Jensie’s best effort on a somewhat aero upright bike. Specialized equipment makes a big difference!

      Thank goodness there are many ideas about how bicycles should look and behave! There’s room for many categories of competition and sets of records. “Best Human Effort” is popular, and “Best UCI Cycle Effort” is up and coming, as long as they can keep their rules consistent. I wouldn’t mind the category “Merckx-era equipment” becoming popular, and I suppose neither would Fabian Cancellara.

  5. Chad

    The first attempt of the athlete hour record was by boardman. He held the outright and athlete record for 5 years before Sosenka beat his mark.

  6. Tom in Albany

    I watched nearly the entire attempt. I have to say, it was too much like NASCAR. Turn left. Turn left. Turn left. However, I was riveted to the data on the screen. Lap times. Averages. Distances. Way too cool. Maybe I’ll get to go out and hurt myself this weekend in a Jensian way, of course…

  7. jon

    I wonder if this was an ultimate domestique scouting for Fabian’s attempt. Fabian was going full steam towards the hour attempt and then when the rules changed, he dropped off the attempt radar. Then Jens comes along and in short fashion trains and sets the new mark. It’s a great marketing ploy by Trek, if it’s truly a marketing ploy. Have Jens do a farewell 1 hour victory lap session… record metrics on bike performance and rider tolerances… then take these vital stats to train the one who can set a mark that lasts for generations… the Fabian.

  8. Eto

    I enjoyed seeing Jens ride within himself and conquer the mental challenge of an hour at a predetermined rate. I felt anxious (for him) watching him having to hold on, without loosing confidence that he could do it.

    He will be remembered for once again getting off the front on a solo break only to be caught just under the red kite.

  9. MattC

    Obviously now that the rules have FINALLY been standardized there will be great interest in this. And I’d expect Fabian/Tony Martin and/or Taylor Phinny to be the next to step up and take this record. Jens knew this going in, and I’m betting it doesn’t matter (much like his going out in front on a doomed breakaway). He did it because he could, and his name will forever be notched in the books as a man who once held the record. WAY TO GO JENS! Talk about going out in STYLE!

    SHUT UP RETIREMENT! (saw that sign being held by a spectator in the Tour of Colorado…loved it!)

    1. Jay

      As stated by others, Jens may be remembered longer for re-igniting interest in the hour than he will be for holding it. Although, no can say for sure what the future may hold.

  10. Hoshie99

    Well the record is odd in that his time is not as fast as those earlier aero attempts. That being said, I thought it a great way from both the UCI and Voight to re-ignite interest in the hour record by consolidating rules and making them consistent with track standards. Simple, understandab;e.

    I think you’ll see the real specialists (Cancellara, Wiggins, Martin, etc) battle it out in the next few years.


  11. Jay

    Jens Voigt breaks the hour record, at age 43. What a fine and fitting way for him to write his swan song to professional cycling.

  12. SusanJane

    Scouting for Fabian. Yep. Kudos for Trek. Yep. Reward for fans. Yep. Good for cycling. Yep.

    The difference between Cookson and the old UCI boys is he truly loves the modern sport not the power plays. Note that there are discussions about the hour record. No screaming. No idiotic edicts. No poser sound bites from god. The hour record is alive again with reasonable, logical rules that allow a real challenge. I wonder sometimes if those guys who used to “own” the UCI even follow the sport. Were they glued to their computers while Jens proved them wrong? Did they cheer when the results came up? I hope so. Cycling’s a fabulous sport. It’s even better now that the hour record is out of the dark ages.

    Thank you, Cookson. Thank you for everyone who voted for him.

  13. Bicycle Steve

    I think Jens Voight, and I think omertà live and well and someone who sadly gets a pass. Can’t wait until the newer generation wipes the record clean.

  14. Full Monte

    When Jens Voigt rode for the hour record, the clock suffered trying to keep up.

    When Jens Voigt set the hour record, he dropped the other 23 hours of the day.

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  16. Derek

    I am four months out from a crash that left me on the pavement. After surgery and a lot of work I am employable again. Clearly the pavement must be softer in his realm.
    Shut up legs.

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