Mystique of racing Merckx is gone, says Cancellara

After last week’s announcement that the rules for the Hour Record are to change, Fabian Cancellara’s camp has announced that the proposed attempt by the Swiss time trial specialist is on hold.

There seem to be two reasons for Cancellara and the Trek Factory Racing team’s unexpected attack of cold feet. According to a team statement, the bike development and training effort so far has been focused on breaking the ‘athlete’s Hour’, under the rules that have held sway since 2000.

That record was held by Ondřej Sosenka at 49.7km, set in 2005, but the ride Cancellara wanted to compare himself against was Eddy Merckx’s 1972 record.

He said: “The whole appeal of the Hour Record for me is that you are competing against riders from the past. I would have loved to race Eddy (Merckx) in the Classics, or in a time trial, but it’s not possible. The Hour Record has this charming side to it that I like a lot.

“Now it’s going to be different. I’m not against technological innovation, everyone knows that. It’s why I spend so much time testing road bikes with Trek. And it’s also why we’ve invested time and money in developing the best Merckx style bike.”

“We had some plans semi-ready but right now we need to think about the whole project again”, added Cancellara. “We will discuss everything within the team and with Trek.”

If the change in the romance of the Hour, from a virtual contest with Eddy Merckx to something more modern is one reason for Cancellara to put his attempt on the back burner, a more concrete reason is implied in the statement that Trek was developing a Merckx-style bike for Canellara’s attempt.

Under current UCI rules, anything you race has to be available for sale, either at the time, or within nice months. In 1972 Eddy Merckx rode a one-off Colnago track bike, tweaked and tuned to be as light as possible. You can’t do that now, so Trek must have been developing a bike that was not only as competitive as possible for the record attempt, but that could be sold through bikes shops afterwards.

But now, riders will be able to use endurance track bikes — in effect, pursuit bikes — not just the drop handlebar old school track bikes of the Merckx era. Unfortunately Trek doesn’t have anything like that in its range either, and it will probably be considerably harder to develop a UCI-legal aero pursuit bike than the old-school round-tubed track machine of the previous rules.

Team general manager Luca Guercilena said: “At this point we need to assess the situation. We’ve invested many ressources, both human and financial, to prepare for an attempt and we need to evaluate in which way, if any, we proceed. We are satisfied that the UCI has now stipulated clear regulations about the Hour Record, as there was already some speculation about it, but we need to examine what it means for our project, which so far has been focused on breaking the Merckx record.”

Those of us who were paying attention when Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree turned the Hour Record into their own personal battleground in the 1990s will no doubt be disappointed that we’re not going to see a rider of Cancellara’s calibre smash the Sosenka record sometime soon. But the anticipation is going to make it all the more exciting when it finally happens.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.