After the UCI redrafted the regulations on the use of time trial bikes for the Hour Record last year, Ondřej Sosenka's 2005 mark of 49.7 kilometres suddenly seemed like rather low-hanging fruit and the successful attempts of Jens Voigt and Matthias Brändle, who shifted the target to 51.852 kilometres in October, hardly altered that perception.
Jack Bobridge fell short of Brändle's distance last week, however, and his disappointment put the Austrian's effort – and the Hour Record itself – in its proper context. Riding alone for sixty minutes without dropping below a speed of over 32 miles per hour is, quite simply, beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of riders in the professional peloton.
When Rohan Dennis (BMC) lined up for his successful attempt in Grenchen, Switzerland on Sunday, he was able to draw lessons from his fellow countryman's effort. It's an exaggeration, perhaps, to liken the two Australians to Daedalus and Icarus, but there was a sense that Bobridge flew too close to the sun by setting out with a target of 53 kilometres pace before tying up in the second half hour and finishing some 500 metres short of Brändle.
"I think it indicated how difficult the challenge is," Dennis' coach Neal Henderson told Cyclingnews on Monday. "When Jens came out and set the record with the new rules and then Matthias not long afterwards came out and broke that, I think everyone was thinking 'It's just what you do now. It's just such a low bar, you can go out and do it on your terms and get it done.'
"But there are no easy hour records. Nobody has ever ridden an easy hour record. People were underestimating the challenge that it is."
Henderson was careful to point out, however, that Dennis' more conservative pacing strategy had not been a direct response to Bobridge's struggle in Melbourne last week, but rather established on the back of his own performance at the Australian time trial championships.
"Jack's pacing gave us a bit of insight but it wasn't something that hadn't been discussed beforehand. It just highlighted the cost of going well over that edge," said Henderson, who began coaching Dennis at the end of 2012, shortly before he turned professional with Garmin. "But in the Australian nationals, Rohan went from the top split at the turnaround to second place behind Porte, so he had his own personal experience of a near-hour TT where he went just a little bit over his edge in the first half and then paid for it in the second half."
Dennis set out on Sunday with two possible pacing strategies in mind – one for 52.5 kilometres and another, more ambitious one targeting the 53-kilometre mark. He averaged 52.8kph through the 40-minute mark and seemed on schedule to break 53 kilometres but he flagged slightly in the finale to finish with a new record of 52.491 kilometres.
"Our schedule was to sit on 17.1 second laps for the first half," Dennis said. "I was probably going a little bit too hard but I was pretty comfortable so I thought I'd sit on this because I was still good, my pacing was fine."
From his vantage point in the centre of the track, Dennis' coach could see that the effort was beginning to exact a toll. "At 40 minutes, he was a little bit ahead of schedule for the lower goal, the 52.5 target," Henderson said. "But you’re balancing on a razor's edge on those types of efforts, and as he was going past I could see that he was probably teetering maybe just over the edge."
Balancing track and road
While Thomas Dekker will tackle the Hour Record later this month in Mexico, Bradley Wiggins seems the most realistic challenger to Dennis' new mark in the coming months. The Briton will finish his road career at Paris-Roubaix in April and will spend eight weeks preparing specifically on the track, intimating that he is likely to have an hour-long dry run in training behind closed doors before doing it for real in front a full house at the Olympic velodrome in London in June.
By contrast, Dennis balanced his preparation with road commitments, which included victory at the Tour Down Under last month, as a consequence his longest effort on the track in the build-up to his attempt was just 30 minutes.
"Literally anything beyond 30 minutes on that track for Rohan was a question mark. It was all uncharted territory beyond that," Henderson said. "Jens was at the end of his career and able to exclusively focus on it for several weeks with nothing else beyond to consider in any way. Bradley Wiggins, I believe, will be able to do absolutely everything on his own schedule, he has nothing further to consider.
"Rohan's a 24-year-old at the start of the 2015 racing season, just coming off a WorldTour stage race win and he's got more targets later in the year. There's a finite amount of time and energy that could be dedicated to this effort. So there was clearly fantastic integration of those pieces in a relatively short period of time with the big picture of Rohan's road racing career this year and beyond still at the forefront."
BMC performance coach Marco Pinotti told Gazzetta dello Sport afterwards that the temperature in the velodrome, which rose to 26 degrees Celsius after it filled with spectators, had had a negative impact on Dennis' performance. For his part, Henderson acknowledged that there were a number of things he would do differently if Dennis were ever to make a second attempt but therein, perhaps, lies the beauty of the hour record.
"Defining exactly where that razor's edge is for any given rider on any given day is impossible to do, and that's what makes it such an amazing accomplishment when a rider reaches a record like that," he said. "An effort like that can help him understand in races to come what kind of a challenge he can sustain and maintain, so that will only help him in the future."