When the UCI announced its reform of the regulations governing the World Hour Record earlier this year, it was with the expectation, perhaps, that the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin would quickly vie to establish a new mark.
The big hitters of world time trialling will doubtless enter the fray in due course – Wiggins has pencilled in an attempt for next summer – but for now, there is a window for opportunists to inscribe their names in the record books.
To mark his retirement from cycling, Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) duly seized the day in Grenchen in September by setting a new record of 51.115km, outstripping Ondřej Sosenka’s previous best of 49.7km, which had been set in the ‘athlete’s hour’ era in 2005, when riders could not use time trial handlebars.
On Thursday evening, another unexpected name, Matthias Brändle of IAM Cycling, will line up in the velodrome at UCI headquarters in Aigle in a bid to divest Voigt of the record. For the 24-year-old Austrian, striking early was his best opportunity of writing his own line in history.
“This year the UCI changed the rules,” Brändle explained. “I didn’t know about it but when I saw Jens break the record I thought ‘ok maybe I could do it also,’ so I asked the team if they would do testing together with me. The testing was before the Tour of Lombardy and we decided I had a good chance of beating it so I’m going for it.”
Brändle has been supervised by coach Marcello Albasini and Scott’s Lars Teutenberg during the build-up to the attempt and he has revealed that he will avail of a bigger gear on his Scott Plasma 5 than the 54x14 used by Voigt. “It will be a little bigger than Jens what used. I will use a 55 in front and behind a 13 so I can use my power a little bit more.”
Brändle was inspired, too, by his agent Tony Rominger, who brought the “old” hour record to hitherto unimagined places in Bordeaux twenty years ago this autumn, when coached by one Dr. Michele Ferrari. “The idea was already a long time in my mind: my manager Tony Rominger already held this record,” Brändle said.
Behind closed doors on 22 October 1994, Rominger set a distance of 53.832km to supersede Miguel Indurain’s freshly-set record, and then before a full house on November 5, he brought the mark to 55.291km. Two years later, Chris Boardman brought the curtain down on an intense period of Hour Record attempts when he used the so-called “superman position” to cover 56.375km in Manchester.
Concerned by the increasing impact of technology on the record and time trialling in general, at the turn of the century the UCI set the clocks and aerodynamic standards back to 1972 and Eddy Merckx’s 49.431km set in Mexico City. Boardman duly took that “athlete’s hour” for good measure in 2000, but until Cancellara began floating the idea of tackling the event last year, the record had been ignored by the world’s best time triallists.
The rule changes announced this year may have dissuaded Cancellara, but they look set to herald a flurry of Hour Record attempts at a rate not seen since the Boardman-Obree-Rominger-Indurain exchanges of the mid-1990s. Small wonder, then, that Brändle was advised to make his pitch early.
“A lot of riders in the peloton think that they can better Voigt’s performance,” IAM Cycling manager Serge Beucherie told L’Équipe. “Matthias’ merit is to have understood that, if he had a chance to write his name in history, it was now or never.”
A professional since 2010, Brändle has proven himself a consistent if unspectacular time triallist, winning three Austrian titles in the discipline during a career that saw him ride for Footon-Servetto (later Geox) and NetApp before landing at IAM Cycling last year.
While Voigt’s Hour Record had been planned since the summer, Brändle’s attempt was inspired primarily by a remarkable run of late-season form that saw him take back-to-back stage victories at the Tour of Britain in September, the week before Voigt set his mark.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’m still so motivated at this time of year,” Brändle said. “Maybe it’s because I had a seven-week break in July so I still have power left for the one hour.”
It was Brändle’s good fortune that Scott had already begun work on an Hour Record-legal bike as soon as the rule changes were enacted earlier this year. When he approached his IAM Cycling team with the idea of tackling the hour, he was quickly dispatched to test material on the track in Grenchen and then amid the tighter confines of the Aigle velodrome, which is just 200 metres in length rather than the standard 250.
“In Aigle, I feel really comfortable. The track is also really fast,” Brändle said. “I like the short straights and corners. It’s maybe a little bit hard because you have to do a lot more laps but I feel really comfortable here. It suits IAM, too, because it’s near Lake Geneva and our base. It’s the perfect choice to do it here.
“The gear I use will be a little bigger than Jens. I will use a 55 in front and behind a 13 so I can use my power a little bit more.”
Brändle’s last two time trial outings of 2014 were mixed. He was 5th in the discipline at the Tour of Britain but then endured a wretched day at the World Championships in Ponferrada, finishing a lowly 35th. However, Beucherie, who was part of GAN’s management during Boardman’s 1990s heyday, believes that Brändle has adapted well to the demands of racing on the track.
“I think the record is doable but it will be hard,” Beucherie said. “You need to approach it methodically, but Matthias is very methodical and professional. He leaves nothing to chance.
“He’s clearly a very combative rider but he also has real qualities as a rouleur, and he’s adapted very quickly to the pedalling style needed on the track."