Michael Hutchinson casts an eye over Matthias Brändle's cadence during Thursday's Hour Record attempt
To an Hour record purist, perhaps the most striking thing about Matthias Brändle’s record was the big gear he used – 55×13. Even Jens Voigt, a man who for years has enjoyed humping a large gear around the countryside, went with a comparatively modest 55×14.
Of course, Chris Boardman used the very marginally larger 56×13 back in 1996 – but then again, under a previous set of rules he used it to go well over 4km further, with an average pedal cadence of around 104rpm. In terms of cadence, Brändle’s 96rpm (or thereabouts) is the slowest since Graeme Obree’s 95rpm back in 1994. And that was considered outrageous at the time. The only other comparable record-holder in the history of the event appears to have been Oscar Egg, who rode at 97rpm in 1912 – and we’re really dealing with ancient history at that point.
It’s not an arcane issue, however much it might seem like one. For most of the record’s existence, its prime exponents have been riders with track pedigree – Francesco Moser, Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree. There have been exceptions, of course, like Tony Rominger (Matthias Brändle’s manager) and Miguel Indurain. But usually there is track experience in there somewhere, and with it the ability to spin the pedals at over 100rpm. That’s something traditionally considered essential to deal with the unceasing rhythm of curve and straight.
What Brändle, and before him Voigt, have suggested is that maybe the future of the record is now with road riders. For most of his ride, Brändle looked very comfortable cruising along on his big gear, despite only a few weeks of training on the track. And of course he was riding what was basically a road time-trial bike, with a few modifications to make a road transmission work with the different axle spacing of a track disc. Jens Voigt’s bike was an almost identical modification of his own Trek Factory Racing TT machine.
Brändle made the point himself, when he said that the biggest attraction of the new UCI regulations for the record was that he could ride, in essence, exactly the same bike he’d ridden at the World TT Championships five weeks earlier. That was the only reason that the record had interested him in the first place.
The danger with the big-gear, road-rider approach is that if the going gets tough, the gear can start to feel very heavy indeed. And it’s true that Brändle struggled in the latter stages of his ride, and admitted afterwards that he’d had to fight to regain his rhythm as his momentum started to falter. There was no last-ten-minutes blast to the record, something that Voigt had provided six weeks earlier.
Of course, we’re still in the early life of the ‘new’ record. The suggestion in the IAM Cycling management was that Fabian Cancellara or Bradley Wiggins would top 54km, which is a lot further than their rider managed. Perhaps the ride that puts the record on the shelf for ten years still will end up being the work of someone with a track background?