In a widely expected move cycling’s world governing body, the UCI. today announced that the rules for Hour Record are to be modernised and simplified.
The upshot of the new rule change is that any future attempt on the record can be set by by a rider on a bike that conforms with the endurance track bike regulations of the day. Presumably, although it is not explicitly mentioned in the UCI statement, that will be a pursuit bike with aero bars - though both the madison and the points race are longer than the track pursuit the bikes ridden in them don't lend themselves so well to a ride against the clock.
The new rules replace the previous rule change made in 2000 which required the hour record to be set on a bike with the same riding position as that employed by Eddy Merckx when he set when he set a distance of 49.431km in 1972 for men; and 1978 for women when Cornelia Van Oosten-Hage, 43 .083km.
The 2000 rule change created the seeming anomaly that the hour record - a time trial - could not be set on a time trial bike or a bike using tri-bars or any sort of handlebar extension designed to help the rider get in to a more aerodynamic position - because such things did not exist in 1972.
As ever though the rules of unintended consequences kicked in and a rule change made with the intention of levelling the playing field emptied it instead. In the 14 years since the change the record has been broken twice. Chris Boardman bettered Merckx in 2000, riding 49.441km, and then the current record holder Ondrej Sosenka, who rode 49.700 five years later.
Sosenka’s otherwise utterly unremarkable career ended in 2008 when he tested positive for methamphetamine and its metabolites - which by association unfairly or otherwise cast doubt on the purely athletic nature of his achievement.
When it comes to clarifying which marks any future hour record attempts have to beat the UCI has, in the short term at least, replaced one anomaly with another - the current record is shorter than previous records:
“ According to the regulation in force from today, all successful attempts on the hour that respected the rules applicable at the time the record in question was achieved are considered “Hour records.” In the light of the current regulation, the records to be beaten today are those established by Ondrej Sosenka (49 km 700) for men and Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel (46 km 065) for women, as these two athletes beat the Hour record using equipment which is still within the regulations currently applicable to track endurance events.”
That mean that although Chris Boardman, Tony Rominger, Graeme Obree, Francesco Moser, and John Frey all rode considerably further to set records that all now count - the record to beat is Ondrej Sosenka’s because it was set under the rules that applied when he set it.
The new regime at the UCI led by Brian Cookson has made no secret of its openness to technical innovation and marks a complete change of direction from what went before under previous presidents: Pat McQuaid; and Hein Verbruggen. The change comes amid worries that Hour Record - long considered the blue riband of cycling achievement was in danger of becoming moribund.
Last month we reported that Fabian Cancellara’s attempt to set a new record had been put on hold because of uncertainty surrounding the Hour Record regulations - or as it turned out, the certainty that they were about to change rendering pointless any further development work on an Hour bike that managed to be both high tech and conform to the 2000 equipment regs.
The writing has been on the wall for the Athlete’s Hour (as the UCI called the Hour Records set which conformed to the 2000 Equipment Regulation) since February when the UCI President Brian Cookson told VeloNews that the governing body’s management committee had asked its track commission to consider changes to the rules surrounding the Hour Record, with potential changes due to be made by the middle of the year.
He said: “My own view is that the so-called athletes’ hour, the record on the old traditional track bike, I think it was a nice idea, but frankly I think it’s an idea whose time has passed.” Today it offically passed.
The idea for the 2000 rule change was to to take technology out of the equation and make the hour record purely an athletic contest between riders. To that end the UCI devised a new set of Equipment Regulation defining the technical characteristics of bikes that could be used in competition and applied them retrospectively - Merckx and Van Oosten Hage were the most recent record holders deemed by the UCI to have ridden bikes that complied with the 2000 Equipment Regulation.
The hour records set between Merckx’s 1972 mark and the change of rules in 2000 were were wiped from the list and re-classified as Best Hour Performance - a move which today was reversed with those previous records being reinstated to the list of previous hour record holders.
Commenting on the change UCI President, Brian Cookson said:
“This new rule is part of the modernisation of the UCI Equipment Regulation. Today there is a general consensus that equipment used in competition must be allowed to benefit from technological evolution where pertinent. This kind of evolution is positive for cycling generally and for the Hour record in particular. This record will regain its attraction for both the athletes and cycling fans.”
Now all that remains to be seen is which rider will be first to step up to the plate, and what bike they will be riding.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.