TICKETS sold out for Sir Bradley Wiggins’ attempt at the hour record in just 30 minutes when they went on sale in April.
As a result, almost 6,000 people will pack the London Velodrome this evening in anticipation of his appearance just before 6.30pm, when he will set off for the loneliest hour in sport.
This is the curious paradox of the hour record – and Wiggins’ much-hyped attempt in particular. These days, events like this all have their own hashtag – for Alex Dowsett, who set the current record in April, it was #PerfectHour. Wiggins’ is #MyHour. Which seems appropriate. The hour in question is his and his alone, and his job – oddly, given the role which the 6,000 people in attendance will think they are there to play – will be to block out the crowd, at least until the final ten minutes, when he will open his senses and allow himself to be spurred on, and to ‘empty the tank’ before the 60 minutes are up.
But for most of the hour, during which he will be trying to break Dowsett’s mark of 52.937km, Wiggins will be locked in his own world. “It’s just you and the black line,” he said last week. This is the line that runs along the bottom of the track – if you drift off it, as inexperienced or tired riders tend to do, then you cover extra, unnecessary distance.
The only other distraction he will permit for the first 50 minutes will be his coach, Heiko Salzwedel, whose job it is to “walk the line”: standing before or after the finish line to indicate whether Wiggins is up or down on his schedule. If all is well he will be aiming to complete each lap in 16.2 seconds. And he would like to do 221 laps: 55.250km. In other words, he doesn’t merely want to beat Dowsett’s record, but to smash it out of the park.
It is a brutal, unforgiving event. At the Tour de France, which Wiggins won in 2012, you can sit in the wheels, behind team-mates or in the middle of the peloton, coasting along, saving the legs. You can freewheel on downhills. But there are no hiding places in the hour record, and there is no let-up.
It requires a very particular approach and a particular type of athlete. Wiggins is that athlete. He doesn’t fear the ordeal but seems to relish it, in particular the mental state required. In an interview last week with Rapha, his clothing sponsor, he offered a lyrical and gloriously evocative description of what it is like to ride flat out on the track for an hour, comparing the rhythm to that of a train. “I get into such a monotonous state,” he said. “Every 125 metres you go into the banking, and it almost becomes trance like.
“I remember going into the driver’s cabin of a Eurostar train once,” Wiggins continued. “I got invited up there. The drivers have a button they have to push every couple of minutes to make sure they don’t fall asleep because every 50 or 60 metres in the Eurotunnel there’s a light and as the train picks up speed these lights are flashing by – whoom, whoom, whoom. It becomes like you’re in a trance, and they have to push the button; if they don’t push it an alarm goes off.
“Riding the hour is a little bit like that. After half an hour you are so focused on the black line, banking, black line, banking. You have to pedal a bit more in the banking, [because] your speed picks up, so you have to press on. There’s an art to riding on the track: if you press [harder] on the straights your power would go up. Your cadence goes up five [revs per minute] in the banking. So every 125 metres you’ve got to press on a little. It’s banking, straight; banking, straight; banking, straight, every 125m for 221 laps for one hour.”
Wiggins admitted it is “monotonous”, but it is a monotony he seems to relish. The only thing that could ruin it is if your position on the bike isn’t right: “Make sure you’re comfortable,” he said. He loves the routine, he added, of preparing and executing a solo effort, whether it be a time trial or an hour record: “I arrive with two-and-a-half hours to go, play the same playlist every time, and go through the same warm-up, the same routine, every time.”
Wiggins is a creature of habit, and one of his habits has been to achieve the goals he has set himself, from Olympic gold medals to the Tour de France to last year’s world time trial title. Today, the latest – and one of his last – will be the hour record.
His mood last week seemed one of excitement. It can only be because he is supremely confident.