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Today at 4pm British time, Joss Lowden will attempt to set a new Hour Record in Grenchen, Switzerland. To do so she’ll need to best the mark of Vittoria Bussi, who rode 48.007km at altitude at Aguascalientes in Mexico in 2018. There’s not been another attempt since.
In truth it’s not been a long held goal of Lowden’s. In April 2020 aero ace Dan Bigham, who is also Lowden’s fiance and who she describes to Cycling Weekly as the “brains” behind the attempt, and the Huub-Wattbike track team, had been scheduled to make an assault on a raft of track records from team pursuit to individual pursuit and the hour.
“Dan starts running some numbers. And he's like, ‘You could do this’ and I thought ‘Hmmm, maybe.’ It evolved from there,” she says.
Originally Lowden’s attempt was going to be for a British record or masters record because she wasn’t on the biological passport, a requirement for a UCI record. But then one afternoon in February in Manchester she did a trial run, initially envisaged as an aero-test she ended up ridding 48.106km.
“We said we should probably make this a real thing,” she says. “Then Le Col wanted to back it so it went from there.”
The British clothing brand is providing administrative support to Lowden (no small undertaking for an Hour Record attempt) and providing her with its newest aero skin suit, developed in collaboration with F1 racing team and former WorldTour team sponsor McLaren.
The custom-made Le Col x McLaren Project Aero skinsuit is the star of her attempt. Developed as part of the brand’s partnership through the Bahrain WorldTour team in 2020 the all-black only skinsuit is claimed to be faster than others on the market. It has trips and textures on many of its leading edges to help smooth the flow of the air around the rider at speed, a feature of all of the top-of-the-line skinsuits in 2021. She doesn’t say as much but it is surely a good chunk of the reason why Le Col has been so enthusiastic in supporting her.
Perhaps the most interesting development, though, is that Lowden may run a 8mm pitch chain. At the Tokyo Olympics the Team GB squad ran 10mm pitch chains, down from the usual 12.5mm, as it is believed to help with mechanical efficiency via less chain articulation with the possibility of using a larger gear but with a stiffer, smaller chainring and sprocket.
“We had some of those 10mm chains but it was very expensive to change the whole drivetrain for it, especially if you need to kit out a whole squad. But [drivetrain developer] New Motion Labs were like that’s cool, let’s see if we can find a shorter one,” says Bigham. He estimates that it could be worth around 50-100 metres over the course of the hour - though he adds they’ll make a decision on whether to run it very close to the day of the attempt.
Regardless of chain size she’ll be running Wattshop’s new Cratus aero crank, which he estimates could gain Lowden another 200m, all compared with what she ran in Manchester in February.
Lowden will ride an Argon 18 Electron Pro, as ridden by the Australian team pursuiters at Tokyo, but in place of the Bastion bar that failed during qualifying, she will be using Wattshop's Anemois Pentaxia Olympic base bar, which costs £8,500 via Wattshop's website, and the Anemoi extension system (£1,545).
The Walker Brothers discs Lowden used during testing at Newport, where these photos were taken, will be replaced by twin FFWD Disc-T SL wheels with Vittoria Pista Speed 2.0 23c tubular tyres.
She will be using a POC Tempor - the 2012 design that was that was brought back into use by HUUB-Wattbike and is now manufactured again.
Here's the complete kit list:
Frame: Argon 18 Electron Pro
Wheels & Tyres: FFWD Disc-T SL, Vittoria Pista Speed 2.0 23c
Pedals: Speedplay Aero
Chainset: Wattshop Cratus with Izumi KAI chain
Bar: Wattshop Pentaxia Olympic with Wattshop Anemoi extensions
Kit: Custom made Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Skinsuit
Helmet: POC Tempor
The organising of an Hour Record might seem simple: you just need a timing system and a rider right? Maybe you need someone to walk the line for you.
But it is a much more complicated process than it seems. For starters, that timing system has to be from Tissot, the Swiss watch manufacturer that sponsors the Hour Record. And the branding needs to be in order around the track, the appropriate officials need to be present, anti-doping officers need to be in attendance.
At the Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, Switzerland, just an hour and a half’s drive from the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, all of those things are already on tap. That makes organising the attempt a lot easier. Plus, there is the fact that the track is known to be reasonably fast - both Jens Voigt and Rohan Dennis set records there.
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