Michael Hutchinson witnessed Jens Voigt set a new Hour Record in Switzerland
So in the end, after a career that’s been marked by sheer heroism more often than by conventional glory, Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) got the retirement party that he had come for. The record books will record that on 18th September 2014, Jens Voigt (GER) recorded 51.115km in Grenchen, Switzerland to set a new record.
Historians who want to add a little detail might note that he was ahead of his schedule the whole way, and beat the 2005 record of Ondrej Sosenka (set on a conventional drop-barred bike under the old ‘Athlete’s’ rules) by 1.315km.
But they won’t capture the heart of Jens Voigt. It wasn’t an easy ride. The first ten minutes was relaxed and controlled, but as former holder Chris Boardman once said, if you pace an hour even close to correctly the first ten minutes has to feel like it’s for free.
After that, it started to get hard. An average speed that had held steady at about 50.8kph since the first few laps started to drift downwards, first to 50.7kph, then a whisper less.
Voigt’s line around the track started to get a little ragged – at the exit of each curve a little weave up the track. After 28 minutes, he got off the tribars to stretch his back, then he got out of the saddle altogether for a few pedal strokes. When he sat back down, it took him a couple of laps to settle back to the task. The speed dropped to just over 50.6kph.
It was a critical moment in the ride. He was 30 seconds up on the record, but that was a margin that could have dribbled away very quickly if he wasn’t able to stay in position and keep pushing the pedals around. The gear of 55×14 was big enough that if he couldn’t stay on top of it, it would get on top of him.
He steadied things. He stayed in position and held a solid 50.64kph for the next thirty laps, like a metronome, till the 40-minute point. It wasn’t a tidy bit of track riding – he drifted up in the curves, and once or twice slewed down the banking in the straights. But it was effective.
And then, wonderfully, the average started to drift up again. By 44 minutes into the ride, the speed had inched back to 50.7kph. A small margin, but a huge achievement for a rider in the last third of an hour record ride. By 50 minutes it was 50.8kph.
In the last ten minutes, it was clear that he was going to do it. The crowd believed. The atmosphere in the track became a celebration, for everyone except the man on the bike, still alone with just the lines on the track for company. But even with the pain on his face, he knew he was going to do it. He said immediately afterwards that he’d known he’d do it even at the half-hour mark, where he was struggling.
And the last minutes were truly glorious. He opened the taps as far as they’d go, to hoist his average to 50.8kph, then 50.9kph, then, with four minutes to go, and to a huge cheer from the crowd, to 51kph. With 90 seconds of the ride left he blasted past the existing record, with enough time left for another five laps – laps of honour where he set a new record with every pedal stroke.
The final distance was 51.115km, and the last lap the fastest of the entire ride at almost 53kph. It was the best possible way for a man who’d spent the previous 30 years pushing against his own limits again and again to blast into retirement.