How far will Jens Voigt ride? What gear is he using? What happens if he punctures? These, and more questions, answered

Jens Voigt will attempt to set a new mark for the Hour Record today in Switzerland. Here we run through how he will set about taking on this iconic challenge. And what happens if it goes wrong.

How far is Voigt going to ride?
Further than 49.7 kilometres, is the plan. Voigt and his team seem pretty confident that there will be a fairly comfortable margin for the rider to play with. During his press conference on the eve of the event, Voigt stated that the first 30 minutes would be on a 50.5-kilometre schedule, and that he would then assess whether he could give more. To be fair, he also acknowledged that he might have to dial back his effort if he was already straying too close to the red line.

Voigt also admitted that anything above 51 kilometres per hour would be very pleasing, and he and his team have had the luxury of extensive testing and training over the last three weeks to zero in on a level of effort they know is sustainable. The team seem confident that 50.5-kilometres to 51 kilometres is the most likely outcome, but possibly more, if Voigt is able to lift himself in the second half of his attempt.

There are some more in-depth details. The weather in Grenchen today is cloudy, indicating low air pressure, which will help the attempt. The velodrome is not considered as fast as Manchester, for example, but it’s at 450 metres’ altitude, which will nudge the distance up slightly. On the other hand, Voigt’s had to make compromises between getting as aero as possible without sacrificing power and efficiency. He’s worked on keeping to the black line (where distance will be measured) – his normal riding style involves considerable weaving and movement.

Basically, he should break the record, but just because he’s popular with fans and seen as one of the sport’s supreme fighters, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for him. He’ll hurt, and he’ll break the record, but he won’t put it on the shelf.

What are the technical details of his bike?
Voigt’s hour record bike is a modified Trek Speed Concept 9, which is the company’s road time trial bike. The spacing at the rear has been modified for the track, but the geometry is the same as the road bike – Trek’s technical director Jordan Roessingh admitted that if they’d had more time, they’d have liked to design a bike specifically for the attempt. To make it more aerodynamic, normal additions like the cable housing have been filled in.

Voigt will ride 55×14 gearing, with 177.5mm cranks. He felt that 53×14 and 54×14 would have him spinning his legs too fast. He also said that he’d be riding at “360 to 370” watts for the attempt.

What happens if Voigt suffers a mechanical?
It depends. There’s a good option and a bad option, depending on how early in the attempt this happens.

Voigt has actually rehearsed the scenario of a puncture. During a 30-minute effort two days before the attempt, he slowed and stopped, as if he had a puncture, rolled round to where a helper had a spare wheel, changed it, and accelerated. The time lost was considerable, although with a smooth changeover, it wouldn’t affect the prospect of success.

An early mechanical wouldn’t be as disastrous as a late one. Voigt said, “It depends when it happens. If it happens in the first five minutes, we’ll stop, take an hour to recover and go again. If it happens in the last five minutes, well, I don’t know. To be honest, we don’t have a Plan B.”

Is Cancellara going to go for the record next?
Although he claims to have lost interest in the record after May’s rule changes (he’d been looking at going for the hour record using the “Merckx” position), Fabian Cancellara will watch Voigt’s attempt with interest. The Swiss rider would easily beat Voigt’s distance if he spent the appropriate time training in a velodrome, and he has the advantage that Trek will have a large body of data and research from Voigt’s attempt to give them a head start.

My colleague Michael Hutchinson has pointed out that there’s an SRM unit behind the saddle of Voigt’s bike. Why would he need the information, seeing as he is retiring? Watch carefully when he finishes the attempt, too. Before any handshakes or victory (we presume) salutes, his support team are going to take a blood lactate sample. If Cancellara doesn’t announce an attempt in the next year or so, we’d be very surprised.

How is Voigt dealing with the pressure?
So well that it’s hard to believe that there actually is any pressure.

Although Voigt’s first choice was to try to break the record at his home velodrome of Berlin, Grenchen has turned out to be the ideal place. The velodrome includes a small hotel, so he’s been able to base himself there away from the media and other distractions, and he’s already “retired” from road racing, so there are no scheduling problems.

The sense is that most other hour record attempts are career-defining for the athletes involved. Graeme Obree went so far to describe his hour record as an existential challenge. For Voigt, it looks like a bit of fun (albeit very painful) to mark the end of his career in a more noteworthy way than just hanging up his wheels after a road race, and there appears to be none of the stress that have marked other attempts.

  • Jonathan Seyghal

    When is it actually happening? How can we keep track?