New crop of riders could take shot at cycling's hour record

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) It is the simplicity of the hour record that makes it the most hallowed in cycling, one rider on one machine for 60 minutes to determine just how much distance a human can cover.

Those who have chased it amount to a master's class in cycling history: from Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx to Chris Boardman, Francesco Moser and Miguel Indurain.

Now, the latest generation is taking its shot.

After changes last year to the rules governing hour-record attempts, there have already been eight assaults on the men's mark and two on the women's standard. Six succeeded, with Molly Shaffer Van Houweling of the U.S. traveling 46.273 kilometers to set the women's record and former Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins of Britain covering 54.526 kilometers for the men's mark.

More could be on the horizon, too. Three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin said this week he would eventually make an attempt, while former record-holders Rohan Dennis and Alex Dowsett said they would like another crack under the right circumstances.

''Wiggo's distance is big, so it would require a hell of a lot of work from the team and all the sponsors,'' said Dowsett, who went 52.937 kilometers in May before Wiggins' attempt in June.

''You don't just wake up and ride around the track for an hour. It takes a huge investment,'' Dowsett said. ''It's a huge ask for anyone, so just got to focus on the road for now and at some point, I would like to have another crack in the future.''

As much as the record is revered, for years it was shrouded in controversy.

Boardman and other riders began to use extreme aerodynamic bikes so far removed from those of Merckx and others that the UCI, the sport's governing body, adopted rules in 2000 to curtail the technology. Two records were created: the hour record or ''athlete's record,'' in which riders needed to use bikes similar to Merckx's, and the ''absolute record,'' which had fewer limits on equipment.

The rule change was intended to make the competition fairer, but it was met with such disdain from the cycling establishment that few riders were willing to make an attempt.

Last year, the UCI essentially backtracked and created the ''unified record,'' which meant riders were once again free to use modern bikes, disc wheels and aerodynamic frames.

Suddenly, some of the world' top cyclists began expressing interest in it.

Jens Voigt was first to set the mark with a 51.115-kilometer effort last September. Matthias Brandle broke it a month later, with Dennis and Dowsett also setting new records.

''Since the real push for the individual time trial at world championships and grand tours, it's opened up a whole new box for people to specialize in,'' said BMC Racing executive Jim Ochowicz, who supported Dennis' attempt in February. ''So you have over the last year all these attempts, every one better than the last. And there will be more.''

That much is inevitable. The big question is when.

The hour record is such an intense physical and mental effort - Dowsett called it ''horrific'' after his ride - that it can compromise an entire season. Few are willing to make such a sacrifice, especially with next year's Rio Olympics a primary target for top time trial riders.

''I'm sure I'll go for it but probably not next year,'' said Martin, who many believe has the best chance of besting Wiggins' mark. ''Maybe in '17 or '18, I would try it one time.''

Dennis said he would not try again ''for a long time,'' but left the door open to a shot, while riders such as Fabian Cancellara, Geraint Thomas and Taylor Phinney could give it a try.

It would simply take the right time, the right equipment and right set of circumstances.

''Not anytime soon,'' Dowsett said of his own effort. ''I'm going to concentrate next year on having a good road season. Wiggins set a huge benchmark. If I go again, I want to be confident I can beat it. The hour record took quite a big toll on my road season this year.''

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