UCI changes hour record regulations, allows modern track bikes

Cycling's world governing body moves to allow track-legal equipment for the hour record

Photo: Tim de Waele

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The Merckx hour record is no more, the UCI announced on Thursday. Cycling’s governing body will ditch the 1972 mark and its bike-design rules in favor of a single, unified hour record using equipment regulations borrowed from modern track pursuit bikes.

Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka’s record of 49.7 kilometers will be the men’s mark to beat, as it is the farthest distance attained using a bike and position that are legal under current UCI pursuit bike regulations. Leontien Ziljaard-Van Moorsel holds the women’s record at 46.065km.

American Colby Pearce set a distance of 49.8km in September of 2013. Pearce was attempting to take the American “aerodynamic record,” the anything-goes category, from Norm Alvis. The Olympian didn’t run an anything-goes setup, however; his bike and position were UCI-legal, checked by UCI commissaire Randy Shafer. This attempt was not mentioned in the UCI’s press release on the rule change.

Any hour record attempt from today forward will be bound by the regulations governing endurance track equipment and position at the time of the attempt.

“This new rule is part of the modernization of the UCI Equipment Regulation,” said UCI President Brian Cookson via a press release. “Today there is a general consensus that equipment used in competition must be allowed to benefit from technological evolution where pertinent. This kind of evolution is positive for cycling generally and for the Hour record in particular. This record will regain its attraction for both the athletes and cycling fans.”

Since October 2000, the hour record has been defined by what it disallowed — any modern aerodynamic equipment and any semblance of a modern time trial position. It’s been called the Merckx hour record, as it required riders to make their attempts on bikes similar to the one used by Eddy Merckx in his 1972 record-setting ride, complete with narrow tubes, low-profile rims, and drop handlebars.

The 1980’s and ’90’s saw rapid developments in equipment and positioning as riders like Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman traded the hour record back and forth. Much of the technology, and certainly the positions, used by those two men are illegal under current UCI rules. Those records, peaking with Boardman’s 56.374km record attained in the “superman” position and on a bike that is not legal under current UCI rules, will remain on the books but will not be the mark to beat for a modern attempt.

Excitement surrounding the hour record rose once again this spring, following a decade-long lull in interest, as rumors of an attempt by four-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) began circulating. The renewed attention led the UCI’s equipment commission and president Brian Cookson to reevaluate the rules surrounding the hour record.

Cancellara’s record attempt was put on hold as the UCI deliberated over new rules. Following Thursday’s announcement, it was not clear whether the Swiss time trialist would re-start his bid. Michael Meyer, Trek’s road product manager, would say only that there is “no decision on it at this time.”

The change in rules, allowing modern technology within the limits of current UCI regulations, should encourage equipment sponsors to push their top riders, time trial specialists like Cancellara, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tony Martin, and Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, to make hour record attempts.

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