If you want to break the men’s hour record, you’ll have to hurry. Next in line is Swede Gustav Larsson, whose attempt in Manchester on Saturday was announced just a couple of days ago.
“It’s a bit scary to do this kind of thing so early in the year,” he told Cyclingnews. “But I can’t wait for Wiggins. It’s now or it will never happen.”
Larsson will make his attempt only eight months after breaking his back in a nasty crash while training. From the hospital bed he tweeted a picture of his smashed-up face and the words: “I'll be f###ing back! Just like terminator...“
The confidence might come from the fact that he has done it before. The injury in June was the third time he had broken his back. The first was in 2003, five years before his Olympic silver in the time trial in Beijing. The second time he didn’t even notice at first. He collided with a car during training in Italy, thought he had broken a few ribs and raced the next day in Giro del Piemonte. That was in the autumn of 2010, and it took months before he had his back scanned and could see that he had fractured his spine again.
Larsson had a couple of tough seasons after that, and the former Olympic and Worlds silver medallist, and Giro d'Italia stage winner took a step down from Saxo Bank to Vacansoleil, then moved to IAM Cycling. For 2015 he has signed with Danish Pro Continental team Cult Energy. But before Larsson crashed last summer he was on his way up. He'd had one of his best spring campaigns in a long time, with a second place on a stage in Critérium du Dauphiné a particular highlight.
“The reason I’m at a lower level is that I broke my back last year. I actually had a few really good results and was really strong, so it wasn’t because I was old and too weak,” says the 34-year-old. “I broke my back and was a gamble to hire. They didn’t want to pay me that high a salary.”
Larsson started thinking about the hour record when the UCI changed the rules, and he heard that Jens Voigt was doing it last fall, but with four fractured vertebrae, he had to wait. “It’s something I have been thinking about during the winter, and had as a goal for this year. The question was more how to arrange it. How to get all the equipment”, he said.
He came by boat from Rotterdam to Manchester on Thursday morning with his bike and wheels, after having spent a few days with Cult Energy directeur sportif Luke Roberts outside Cologne in Germany, testing his position on the track. His Ridley bike had to be made in in a matter of weeks, after the attempt was scheduled as part of the finale of the Revolution Series in Manchester - Dame Sarah Storey made he record attempt at the previous round of the Revolution in London.
“It’s pretty similar to the other time trial bikes, it’s nothing strange, really. It’s a pursuit bike with disc wheels. It’s more about testing the position on the track, also the technique is something you have to practice a lot. We have gotten most of the equipment late, so we haven’t been able to test it very much or make customisations," said Larsson.
Former track Olympic gold medallist, Roberts helped the tall Swede with aerodynamics, position and the specifics of riding on the track. Larsson’s specialty is hour-long time trials, which is similar but not exactly the same as the hour attempt.
“The difference on the track is that you can’t change gears, you can’t really stand up, you just sit in one position the whole time and try to stay on the black line, it’s a completely different type of technique. And you get updates all the time on how you are doing”, he says. “Physically it suits me very well. But it’s also about getting the technique right and the whole mentality behind it.”
The record holder that Larsson will have to beat is Rohan Dennis with his 52.491 kilometers. The last one to try was Thomas Dekker who was just a lap short of beating Dennis. Before them, Jack Bobridge tried and failed, and, like everybody else, Larsson noticed that the Australian opened too fast.
“The strategy is always to try to pace yourself to the right lap time all the time. To make sure that lap time is sustainable. At the same time you have to have a lap time fast enough to be able to break the record. Maybe that’s the problem, that you risk doing a speed that is a little bit too fast and you fall through and do much worse than you could have. But it’s a chance you have to take.”
There is not much point in trying the record if you don’t think that you can succeed.
“I think I have a shot, but at the same time I know that it’s hard and long so I don’t feel comfortable that it’s easy to do it. But I really believe there is a possibility to take the record," said Larsson.
He hasn’t taken any good results in the road races he has done so far with Cult Energy this year, but says his training for the track has got in the way of his road form. His back feels pretty good now, and doesn’t bother him on the bike.
He knows that he usually has trouble getting in top shape in the spring, but with Sir Bradley Wiggins planning to try the record in the summer, now is Larsson’s chance.
“He will probably be very hard to beat. So you have to do it before he tries the record," says the Swede. “I think it will go well on Saturday. If I could do it in August it would be better, but for springtime I think my form is good.”
He hopes the audience will help him. “I will need that in the last 20 minutes when it hurts the most. I know that a screaming audience can make you forget the pain a little.”
It’s a special situation for a road cyclist: to be the only one competing.
“It’s very nervous that way. I’m the only one everyone is watching, I can only win or lose. But that’s cool in a way. And scary in another.”