Five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx was full of praise for compatriot Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal) after the Belgian set a new Hour Record distance of 55.089 kilometres in Mexico on Tuesday, beating Bradley Wiggins' 2015 record by 563 metres, and making it the first time that the nation had set the record since Merckx did so in 1972.
"I have to say congratulations," Merckx told Belgium's VTM Nieuws. "It's an incredible achievement to go over 55 kilometres. I take my hat off to Victor, as I know what it feels like to ride like that for an hour."
Merckx's record of 49.431km stood for 12 years after it was also – like Campenaerts' ride – set at altitude in Mexico, albeit on an outdoor velodrome in Mexico City, on a relatively standard drop-bar track bike in October, 1972.
It was finally bettered by Italy's Francesco Moser in 1984, who first rode to 50.809km, and then raised his own record four days later to 51.151km, riding on a 'lo-pro' bike with double disc wheels.
Various rule changes in the years that followed meant that Merckx's record once more stood again as a 'best human effort' thanks to the lack of modern bike technology used on his ride, but Britain's Chris Boardman was able to beat it in 2000 on a round-tubed, drop-bar bike in Manchester, England, setting a new distance of 49.441km – and therefore beating Merckx's 1972 record by just 10 metres.
In 2014, the rules were once again relaxed so that standard aero track pursuit bikes – more akin to what Campenaerts used on Tuesday – could be used, and a glut of new Hour Record distances were set over the next couple of years, starting with German Jens Voigt's distance of 51.110km, and finishing with Wiggins' 54.526km in London in 2015, which no one had since been able to beat.
However, Wiggins said in the build-up to Campenaerts' attempt that he hoped that the Belgian could do it.
"I think it would be good for the sport and good for the record," Wiggins said, speaking on his podcast on Eurosport, predicting that the record would indeed fall.
"I think if he starts, he'll do it, because you don't start the Hour Record unless you know you're going to do it, because it’s so quantifiable," he said.
On Tuesday night, after Campenaerts' achievement, Wiggins took to Twitter to send the rider his congratulations.
"Chapeau, Victor, my man," he wrote, using the French expression that effectively means 'hats off', with the addition of a fist-bump emoji.
Wiggins would likely also approve of Campenaerts' invitation to anyone in the vicinity of his uncle's café in Antwerp in Flanders, in northern Belgium, on Tuesday night to enjoy a free beer.
"We've run out of beer," Campenaerts' uncle later lamented to Het Nieuwsblad. "But we have a good relationship with the other cafés and bars around here, so we'll be getting some more."
Across Belgium, the celebrations were set to continue long into the night thanks to Campenaerts having managed to bring Merckx's Hour Record home.
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