The hour is nigh, but right now, in the depths of the off-season, Alex Dowsett can't say precisely when it will come around. The Movistar rider is aiming to regain the UCI Hour Record in 2017, but has yet to determine how to shoehorn those unforgiving sixty minutes into his racing schedule.
"What I'd love to do is another hour record attempt. There's a lot of people who want me to do it within the team, but just getting it together is logistically difficult," Dowsett told Cyclingnews at the Rouleur Classic in London, adding that the velodrome in Manchester is the most likely venue for another tilt at the hour.
The UCI's decision to relax the restrictions on aerodynamic positions breathed new life into the Hour Record a little over two years ago, with no fewer than five new marks being established between September 2014 and June 2015.
In May 2015, Dowsett covered 52.397 kilometres in Manchester to eclipse Rohan Dennis' record, only for Bradley Wiggins to surpass that new milestone by over 1,500 metres the following month in London. Wiggins' distance of 54.526 kilometres remains the benchmark, but Dowsett is not perturbed by the lofty new target. As in 2015, the starting aim will be to exceed the existing record by the bare minimum.
"We'll attack it the same way we attacked the last one and just look to break it – no egos, no trying to prove how good we are. We just want to get that record and do it in the most conservative, risk-safe way as possible. We're not interested in putting on a big old show because it's a big mark," Dowsett said. "But it's in me. The numbers show that it's in me."
While Eddy Merckx's weary assertion of "I'll never try it again" on setting his mark in Mexico City in 1972 have echoed in history, a second (or even a third) tilt at the Hour Record has hardly proved an insurmountable psychological barrier over the years, as shown by Messrs. Moser, Rominger, Boardman and Obree.
"It is a help. I was super scared of it the last time, but I've done an Hour now and I know what it's like," Dowsett said. "Attack it right, and it's nowhere as horrific as people say. Attack it wrong, and it's the worst thing you'll ever do in your life."
Dowsett's humble target contrasts with the rather more bombastic approach of Wiggins, who set out in 2015 with the stated aim of taking the record past 55 kilometres – or more than 2.6 kilometres ahead of the existing mark.
Wiggins, of course, has since had to defend the decision – taken with his Sky team – to avail of a therapeutic use exemption for the corticosteroid triamcinolone acetonide before Grand Tours 2011, 2012 and 2013. Dowsett, a teammate for two years before joining Movistar in 2013, is diplomatic when asked his opinion of the case. "Only they know if that product was necessary," he said.
Dowsett, by his own admission, endured a deeply frustrating 2016 campaign, even if he is at pains to point out that his troubles pale by comparison with those endured by teammate Adriano Malori, who was placed in an induced coma after a crash at the Tour de San Luis in January and only returned to action at season's end."If you look at Malori, my luck isn't anything as bad as the luck he's had, so I feel bad saying it," Dowsett said.
While victory in the time trial at the Tour de Pologne – not to mention a fifth national time trial title – provided some solace, Dowsett was forced to forgo the principal target of his season, the Giro d'Italia, when the metal plate that had repaired the collarbone he broke in 2015 began to show through the skin. He had no option but to go for surgery, which meant he spent nine weeks away from racing ahead of the Tour de Suisse.
"The Giro was a huge target, I was more than ready for it and I felt with the way it panned out, I could have won both of the time trials in the first week, provided I didn't crash," Dowsett said.
"I was still on the shortlist for the Tour de France after that, which was good of the team, but because they'd taken the plate out, there were effectively six screw holes in my collarbone that were going to take six weeks to heal up.
"At the Tour de Suisse, I was strong but not fast there, so I was getting dropped with 3k to go on the flat which is my bread and butter normally. That was the selection race for the Tour de France, and I can see why I wasn't selected. I wouldn't have picked me based off that, I was useless on the flat and my usual self on the climbs, which isn't spectacular."
Although Dowsett's current deal with Movistar expires at the end of the 2017 season, the Englishman does not believe his approach will change unduly in contract year. As a time trialist, he has the relative luxury of being able to chase his own results as a complement to his usual duties for his leaders. Just like the jettisoned 2016 plans, Dowsett will target time trial glory at the Giro and a spot on Movistar's Tour team.
"I'm not really looking to move teams, I just want to prove to Movistar I'm worth a place on the team," he said. "I'm lucky being a time trialist, too, because if I do well in the WorldTour TTs, I can get points there. Every day there's a time trial, it's my opportunity, and then I'm more than happy to work in road races. Tactically I'm not as good as some others at winning road races, so I'm happy to be a workhorse there."
Dowsett will continue to complement his racing programme at WorldTour level with a steady diet of time trials on home roads in the United Kingdom. Having been nurtured on the domestic time trialing scene, Dowsett is a regular on dual carriageways in Essex, where, at least for the most part, he is a welcome if elusive benchmark for local club riders.
"I use time trials like guys in Girona use Rocacorba to see how they're going. If I just raced the pro scene I wouldn't do enough of them and I love time trials. I grew up on the British time trial scene and I still have a real like for it," he said.
"I'm the only full-time bike rider there and I'm on stunning equipment and I usually win by a large margin. The majority are pleased to see me and they like to see the comparison. And when I go to Worlds and Tony Martin rolls me by two minutes, people go: 'What would he do on the A2?' But then some people don't think I should be there because it's not fair. I understand what they're saying but I just hope they know I'm not going there to be a big fish in a small pond, I'm going there because I love time trialing."