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Speculation as Sir Bradley Wiggins gets back on the boards at Lee Valley

Twitter users wonder whether he might be planning a new Hour attempt, or has an eye on the Madison at Tokyo Olympics

Sir Bradley Wiggins was back on the boards at the Lee Valley velodrome yesterday, prompting speculation among Twitter users that he may be planning a tilt at the so-called Athlete’s Hour record. There’s just one problem, however – it hasn’t existed since 2014.

That was when Brian Cookson, president of world cycling’s governing body, decided to restore prestige to the UCI Hour Record by permitting modern bikes and equipment, there has been but one record – and that’s held by Wiggins, who rode 54.526 kilometres at Lee Valley VeloPark in June 2015.

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Other Twitter users wondered whether his return to the track might have anything to do with the Madison being reintroduced to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020.

Wiggins partnered Mark Cavendish to the world championship in the event at Lee Valley last year, the second time they had done so as a pair, and their failure to follow up their previous win in the event in 2008 with Olympic gold at Beijing that year means there could be an ‘unfinished business’ aspect to it.

But with Wiggins now six months into retirement and Cavendish having suggested to Geraint Thomas that they have a crack at the event in three years’ time, the prospect of him being in Japan seems highly remote.

The Athlete’s Hour was the unofficial name given to the official UCI Hour Record when world cycling’s governing body decided, in 1997, to re-establish Eddy Merckx’s distance of 49.431 kilometres set in Mexico City in 1972, as the official record.

For a decade or so starting from the mid-1980s, the record was pushed further still by Francesco Moser, Graeme Obree, Chris Boardman, Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger, as they sought to push their bodies – and the boundaries of bike and equipment design and performance – as far as the could.

When Boardman, riding in a ‘Superman’ position, set a distance of 56.375 kilometres at Manchester in 1996, the UCI decided to reinstate Merckx’s 1972 record as the official benchmark; any new attempts at it would need to be made using a similar bike and equipment, while those later ones were reclassified as ‘Best Human Effort’.

In 2000, it was Boardman, again riding in Manchester, who surpassed Merckx’s 1972 distance as he racked up a distance of 49.441 kilometres. That would be beten five years later in Moscow by the Czech rider Ondřej Sosenka – although given he failed anti-doping controls in 2001 and 2008, some are doubtful about the validity of his ride.

After the UCI unified the two categories in 2014, Jens Voigt, in the final ride of his professional career, became the first rider to attempt the record under the new rules, setting a distance of 51.110 kilometres at Grenchen in Switzerland.

While that was around 5 kilometres less than Boardman’s 1996 ride, under the current regulations, it became the official record.

There was then a flurry of interest in the record, with seven attempts made on it over the following 20 months, four of those successful – by Matthias Brandle, Rohan Dennis and Alex Dowsett, and finally by Wiggins.

Since then, interest has waned somewhat, most likely due to the imposing distance Wiggins has set. US rider Tom Zirbel rode 53.037 kilometres – the second furthest achieved under current rules – in Mexico in September 2016, while the Dane Martin Toft Madsen managed 52.114 kilometres in January this year.

Wiggins himself said he would not be having a new attempt at the UCI Hour Record earlier this month on the third anniversary of his ride in London.

Six months into retirement, any official record attempt by Wiggins would in any event require him to rejoin the Athlete Biological Passport programme – although that would not be an issue if he decided to see if he could unofficially beat the former Athlete's Hour record.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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