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Fabian Cancellara’s plans to take on the hour record are on hold following a revived debate within the UCI over rules governing one of cycling’s most vaunted records.
The hour record was on Cancellara’s radar for later this season, most likely after the Tour de France, but now officials at Trek Factory Racing are waiting until the UCI clarifies its definition of the hour record.
Trek manager Luca Guercilena told VeloNews on Sunday the team is waiting for word from the UCI before moving forward.
“Right now we are standing still, because the project was almost ready, then we saw comment that the track commission is looking to have a new set of rules for the hour record, so we cannot go on,” Guercilena said before the start of Paris-Roubaix. “There is a big investment that we need to do, so we do not know which direction we are going. We cannot spend money for nothing.”
Since 2000, following a wave of hour attempts with ever more extravagant time trial bikes in the 1990s, the UCI instituted two definitions of the hour record.
Cycling’s governing body said the technological advantages pushed the sport too far from its tradition roots, and moved to separate the old from new.
Since 2000, the UCI set the official hour record based on what it called the “Merckx position,” using a similar track bike setup and geometry as Eddy Merckx used to set a record of 49.431km in 1972. That position does not allow aerodynamic modifications to handlebars, wheels, frames, position, or helmets.
It defined the more aerodynamic, time trial attempts as “best human effort,” currently held by Chris Boardman at 56.375km, set in 1996.
After the new rules were instituted in 2000, Boardman returned to the boards in October that year in Manchester with a traditional setup, bettering the Merckx mark at 49.441km. In 2005, Ondrej Sosenka bettered that on a track in Moscow with 49.700km, but a subsequent doping positive in 2008 for the Czech rider cast doubt on the validity of the record, although the distance still stands in the record books.
The arrival of Brian Cookson to the UCI presidency in September revived a debate within the cycling federation about what should constitute the official hour record.
Speaking to VeloNews in February, Cookson confirmed there was interest in opening up the rules to new technological advances.
“My own view is that the so-called athletes hour, the record on the old traditional track bike, I think it was a nice idea, but frankly I think it’s an idea whose time has passed,” Cookson told VeloNews’ Ryan Newill. “So what we’ve asked the track commission is, look, what’s the step forward out here? We aren’t going to allow anyone to ride the hour record in the superman position. But we think that the old, traditional track bike athlete’s hour record is probably a little bit of an outdated idea. Where do we go from here?”
In late March, the UCI track commission met to discuss the issue again, but has yet to make an official announcement. Until then, Cancellara’s hour attempt is on ice.
“The key point for us is, which would be [the] record to beat? Until we know that, we cannot go on,” Guercilena said. “We were working on the Eddy Merckx position, that was the goal we had in mind. And we were almost ready for that, but now we are waiting to see what happens. This is a big project. This is not something we can pull together in 15 days.”
Trek has been working on the Cancellara hour project since last winter. The company has invested time and money testing materials, and Guercilena said it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward until the rules are clearly defined.
Cancellara’s plan to tackle the record was the first serious attempt in nearly a decade. The UCI’s strict rules took the luster off challenging the hour record, at least from a technological point of view. Others recently have expressed interest, including 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Cancellara has been reticent to speak publicly about the hour attempt, insisting that he wanted to focus on the spring classics before becoming distracted with the intense effort to better the hour mark.
Guercilena insisted that Cancellara is enthusiastic about the project.
“He is excited. OK, first come the classics, but we made lots of tests over the winter, and he was motivated,” the Italian manager said. “He wants to do it.”
With everything in a holding pattern, Guercilena cautioned the attempt might not happen this year. Physically, Guercilena said Cancellara would not need that much time to reach a peak level, especially if he was coming off the Tour de France. It’s the technological side of things that would need more time to prepare, especially if the rules are modified.
“Once he’s 100 percent for the road, he’s not too far off top form to make the attempt. The main thing is to prepare the materials, the setup with the bike. That is what takes more time,” Guercilena said. “But now, everything is on hold, so we are waiting.”