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Filippo Ganna’s long-awaited Hour Record attempt is finally almost upon us and speculation is rife as to what distance he might ride when he takes to the boards of the Tissot Velodrome in Grenchen, Switzerland this Saturday evening. Not since Merckx in 1972 has there been an Hour Record attempt so widely considered a foregone conclusion, not only to break the UCI World Hour Record but absolutely demolish it. Arguably, there has been no rider since Merckx who seems more suited to truly putting the Hour Record “on the shelf,” with a ride to end all rides. So before we find out for sure, we decided to indulge in one last bit of fantasy and have a look at if Ganna can break the Hour Record, and make some guesses as to by how much.
The perfect Hour rider?
At 1.93m and ~83 kg, with a phenomenal engine, Ganna has the build and the physiology to make him one of the best time triallists of his generation. As a double World Time Trial champion, three-time national time trial champion, and five-time grand tour time trial stage winner, Ganna is putting that potential to good use on the road. It’s this time trialling pedigree that has so many so excited about Ganna’s Hour.
But Ganna is not just a strong time triallist, he is also one of the best track riders of his generation and the Hour Record is, of course, a track event. A track event which requires a deceptively huge amount of skill for what, on the face of it, appears to be just riding in circles for an hour. As an Olympic team pursuit champion, former world record holder and four-time world champion in the individual pursuit, Ganna has the velodrome skills box also well and truly ticked.
Ganna also has watts to burn. Rumoured to have produced 607 watts for four minutes when he broke the aforementioned 4 KM individual pursuit in 2019, from the limited data available we know he has since produced around 550 watts for the eight-minute opening time trial at the 2021 Giro d’Italia, and 520 watts for the slightly longer 15-minute time trial in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. While none of these past performances are as long or demanding as a full gas hour on the velodrome, it gives us an indication of the kind of power Ganna can produce.
Furthermore, Ganna has already completed a 35-minute test with a rumoured average speed of 56.1 kph, half a kilometre further than the current record. Every indication is that Ganna is on track to produce a truly remarkable ride. The only certainty with the Hour Record, though, is that there are no certainties.
Head to head
At least until tomorrow, Ganna is still only a hopeful challenger. Dan Bigham is the current Hour Record holder, having set a new benchmark of 55.548 KM on August 19th. Before anything else, Ganna must first simply break 55.548. This is the challenge all Hour Record hopefuls must juggle, attempt their absolute best at the risk of losing everything, or take a more conservative approach aiming first and foremost just to set a new record. Even a so-called conservative approach is nevertheless going to require the best distance by any human since Chris Boardman’s expunged “best human effort” Hour Record of 56.375 km in 1996, which was completed using the now banned “superman position.” Ganna himself has said the realistic target is 1 metre further than Bigham’s current record.
Ganna’s attempt is unlike any other, though, in that he has the current record holder in his camp. Bigham is employed as a performance engineer at Ineos and has been tasked with giving Ganna the best chance of breaking the record. In fact, Bigham’s Hour Record, as phenomenal as it was, was also the final piece in an Ineos Grenadiers plan for Ganna’s attempt to end all attempts.
Had Ganna been challenging Victor Campenaerts previous record of 55.089 km, we might have looked at a World Tour time trialling head-to-head between the two World Tour riders. Unfortunately, only one such data point exists on the road between Bigham and Ganna, that being the 2021 World Time Trial Championships where Ganna took victory and beat Bigham in 16th place by 2:11. Looking at the individual pursuit on the track, the results are closer, but it is still Ganna taking the edge with a PB of 4-01.934 in February 2020 versus Bigham’s 4-05.274.
Those times only tell one small part of the story, though. As Bigham explained on a recent episode of the Nerd Alert podcast, he did up to 95% of his training this year on the time trial bike, perfecting his aero position and his ability to sustain said position. Ganna, on the other hand, has had a road season including a Tour de France and a trip to Australia for the recent road world championships to complete and, as such will inevitably have sacrificed some Hour Record specific training.
Still, though, Ganna will have all the attention to detail, experience, and understanding garnered from Bigham’s attempt helping to make up his track time deficit. Ganna will have the same Pinarello Bolide F 3D, Princeton Carbon Works double disc wheel setup, BioRacer skinsuit, Wattshop and MucOff drivetrain, and Kask helmet Bigham so successfully “tested”.
It’s not a certainty
All that support by no means makes Ganna’s Hour a foregone conclusion. Almost every rider, bar Bigham, who has attempted the Hour Record has described it as some version of torture, life-ending, agony. Ganna himself, who has never completed a full “hour” said today, “I might get to 36 minutes and want to die.” Bigham, on the other hand, completed six separate 60-minute mock Hour rides before his World Record ride, including a British record ride in October 2021. That experience will have no doubt been vital in Bigham’s successful ride. Ganna will surely suffer some nerves heading into his first full hour with the eyes of the world on his every pedal stroke.
Furthermore, while Ganna might have every bit of kit and every stitch of clothing that proved so successful for Bigham, as a bigger rider with a somewhat less aero position, he will also have more drag to overcome. Bigham’s CdA was reported at an incredible 0.15. Ganna’s is thought to be around .18-.20. Ganna has more power than Bigham, but he will also require more power just to go as fast.
While aerodynamics is, partially, rocket science, it sometimes helps to think of aerodynamics in terms of watts/CdA, much like we compare climbers in watts/KG. Smaller riders require less power to go uphill at the same speed because they weigh less. Ganna’s CdA is higher, so he will require more power to go the same speed. From our calculations, had Bigham had the same .18 CdA, his distance might have dropped as low as 52.3 KM for the same rumoured 350 watts, while if his CdA was .20, his distance would have dropped to 50.5 km. Bigham has the ability and the know-how to contort himself into that phenomenal position, though, and as such, was able to achieve the .15 CdA many would have considered impossible under current UCI regulations.
If we apply the same calculations and assumed CdA to Ganna and factor in the less-than-perfect weather conditions forecast for Grenchen tomorrow evening, the power numbers required shoot right up. To match Bigham and with a CdA of .20, Ganna will require somewhere in the region of 470 watts, a number even the great man himself would surely baulk at. Drop that CdA to .18 and the power required drops to a much more manageable, by Ganna standards, to a mere 425 watts. While 425 watts s more than manageable for Ganna, it’s by no means certain the watts he can produce on the road carry over onto the boards. Many riders will see a drop off in power by as much as 10% in the velodrome.
Every attempt is at the mercy of the weather gods. Just ask Bradley Wiggins, who might still have the World Record had the atmospheric pressure in London not climbed close to a ten-year high on the day of his attempt in 2015. In his pre-attempt press conference earlier Friday, Ganna mentioned targeting 15.8-second laps in his 35-minute test earlier this week. While we do not know the exact conditions during that test, but given the current forecast, and all the assumptions already listed above, theoretically, Ganna would need 458 watts to hit those 15.8-second lap times at .18 CdA. Again, 460 is presumably doable for Ganna on the road, but on the track, in an aero position, for an hour, with no respite, and with the forces exerted on his aching body through every banking, it’s less of a certainty.
Ganna is thought to be planning a negative split pacing strategy, much like Bigham did, and it is not clear at what point of the ride he would plan to hit these 15.8 second lap times, but such times would surely indicate he is planning on not only breaking Chris Boardman’s “best human effort” but also going close to the 57 km marker never seen before. Bigham did describe Boardman’s 56.375 km as “achievable when asked what might be possible for a theoretically perfect rider with 450 watts to burn,” before explaining that 57 km “is a big, big ambition.”
Watts and CdA aside for a second, Ganna suggested in today’s press conference that he may ride with a 66 x 14 gearing and he would target a cadence of 96rpm, from there we can calculate with some good old-fashioned maths he is planning to ride over 57kph.
That said, it is thought Ganna is not in perfect form. His world time trial championships did not go to plan, and that was off the back of postponing his Hour Record attempt, initially planned for late August. The superstar was thought to be suffering from fatigue from his first Tour de France. Was Ganna’s sub-par Worlds performance due to his focus on the Hour Record? only time will tell. Thankfully, that time is almost upon us.
What do we think? Considering all of the above, we think if Filippo Ganna is lining up for an attempt at the record now, he is confident of beating it. He has, after all, already postponed an attempt when he thought he wasn’t ready. That said, given Ganna’s phenomenal talent and seemingly perfect suitability for this effort, predicting he will just break it doesn’t feel like a particularly dangerous bet.
We all want to know just how far Ganna can go. At the risk of looking like an idiot, I am predicting Ganna will break Boardman’s best human effort, but ultimately will complete the “Hour” just under the 57 km mark.
How to watch
The Grenchen Velodrome in Switerzland will host Ganna’s Hour Record attempt at 8pm CET on Saturday, October 8th. The ride will be broadcast live on GCN, Discovery, and Eurosport with the pre-ride show starting at 19:45 CET (18:45 BST / 10:45 PT / 13:45 ET).