Eddy Merckx’s hour record of 49.431 kilometres, set in Mexico in 1972, has been the standard bearer for the event ever since the UCI decided to restrict the equipment available in 2000. Today (Thursday) Jens Voigt, who turned 43 on Wednesday, will become the first rider to tackle the hour since the rules were relaxed earlier this year.
Voigt will not be aiming for Merckx’s distance, but the 49.700km set by Ondřej Sosenka in 2005. Merckx believes that the recently retired German can better the Czech rider.
“Although I expect to see him do unnecessary extra yards because of his style,” Merckx jokingly told L’Équipe. “He will benefit from new hardware, more efficient, relative to Boardman and Sosenka, who themselves have used a different material to mine."
“I am the last to do it with a normal frame, wheels, straight spokes, helmet, socks and pedals with straps. In 2000, Boardman was already using a shaped helmet, clipless pedals and wheels with bladed spokes, making big differences in watts. In Mexico City, with simply adding clipless pedals, I would have easily exceeded 50 km in an hour."
In an interview with Sporza, Merckx went onto say that Voigt’s chances were 50/50. Merckx was known for his hunger to win everything he raced and invariably did so, but when he set his record in 1972, the Cannibal said it was the hardest thing he had done in his career. Something he reiterates 42 years later.
“Getting off the bike, I felt like a paralytic, with the impression that I planted needles in my buttocks. I drank gallons of water and beer, without being able to urinate, and for three or four days I couldn't walk,” he told the French paper. “I went too fast…it was in my nature, and nothing could stop me.”
Merckx’s record stood for 12 years before it was taken by Francesco Moser in 1984, on the same Mexico track. In the mid ‘90s there was a flurry of hour attempts, including one by Miguel Indurain, but the hour then fell out of favour. With the new regulations on equipment, the UCI hope to reinvigorate the record, with Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara likely to attack the record in the future.
“It was very prestigious, moreover, all the great have tried, except Bernard Hinault,” said Merckx. “Today, the UCI has restored order, it is a good thing. For if the record had lost interest, it was because of these constant changes in regulation.”