apocryphal tales of the tour de france's early years mix legend with myth, but what they don't disguise is the considerable length of each stage. consider that the initial tour in 1903 began on 31 may and ended over one month later on 5 july, and it wouldn't take much more than primary school arithmetic to work out just how much cycling was involved. in fact, stages often continued through the night and into the following day; a long time to spend in the saddle.
in the intervening hundred or so tours, sense has gradually prevailed, allowing not only derailleurs to be used on the bicycles, but the lessening of restrictions as to what constitutes a legal bicycle repair. heck, nowadays, riders can even switch to special bicycles just for mountian climbs. nonetheless, modern day tour stages, in companion with their fellow grand tours in spain and italy, still occupy the better part of four hours of tv time and occasionally more.
the one-day classics are no better in this respect, but in truth this is scarcely an onerous situation for the eager aficionado glued to the television screen. though i've little doubt that the riders would welcome shorter stages, a day's work is a day's work.
track riding, on the other hand, occupies a tad less time per event. currently australia's jack bobridge holds the 4,000 metre individual pursuit record, reaching the finish line in a mere 4m 10.534 seconds. the british team pursuiters hold the world record in the considerably lesser time of 3 minutes 51.659 seconds. and then there's the hour record, an event that has seen a resurgence of interest recently with the uci altering the long-standing requirement to emulate eddy merckx. the official record is currently held by sir bradley wiggins at a distance of 54.526 kilometres, the number creatively and very quickly displayed across the rapha jersey worn at the press call immediately afterwards.
as evidenced on the back cover of this very fine book "There is no second place in the Hour. You either do it or you fail." you will perhaps note that the hour gains a capital letter, on order to both separate it from any other hour and to position it as a period of sixty-minutes worthy of reverence. much as i hate to set off on the wrong foot, though it probably says more about me than brad, this turned out to be a surprisingly good book. no doubt mr wiggins was expertly guided by his accomplice in the (written) project, william fotheringham.
think of sir bradley what you will (and i frequently have), the man has a level of humility that often seems to be missing in his occasional public outbursts. there is ample evidence of this by the interspersing of brief chapters all entitled hero featuring those who have held the hour record in the past. riders such as graeme obree, fausto coppi, eddy merckx, francesco moser and others are all presented as being individuals that wiggins holds in high esteem.
"I wanted a place on that list and I liked the tradition I would be trying to keep up. [...] I would then be able to compare myself to those greats, using the equipment available to me 20 years on."
"Without all those people, I couldn't have done what I've done, because I wouldn't have been in love with the sport."
similar to the hour attempt itself, the book is very well paced, describing small portions of brad's hour interspersed with details of the training regime followed to achieve those 54.256 kilometres. "I started quite hard and it took me three or four laps to start seeing the lap time drop to 16.3sec. This feels really easy..."
with a distinct lack of printed material regarding just how one would approach riding a velodrome as fast as possible for one hour, wiggins decided to adopt and adapt the programme followed by miguel indurain, a strategy culled from a feature in a 1994 edition of cycle sport. up till that point, the question remained "What kind of training is best? There is no point in going to Majorca and going up and down Lluc or Puig Major when you are going to ride on the track."
in essence, my hour is a very desirable coffee table book, perhaps heralding a more pragmatic size of the genre in tandem with the recently reviewed shoulder to shoulder. there are infographics describing the infamous air pressure versus aerodynamics, the hour's history and bike evolution and a graphic detailing brad's speed kilometre by kilometre. arguably, there are several too many photos of the pinarello (i counted nine), the velodrome and moody pics of a bearded sir bradley.
however, considering it was possibly the cycling event of the year (tickets sold out frighteningly quickly), it does no-one any harm to allow brad to luxuriate in and extend his achievement just a wee bit further. contrary to my expectations, the reading was quite addictive and i mean it not as a denigration of the contents to state that i actually read the entire book in almost exactly one hour.
as a memento, my hour is a highly desirable publication. as a study of the fortitude required to undertake such athletic activity, its clarity is impressive and as a testament to the blue riband of cycling athleticism, it is quite impeccable. add to that the copious number of colour illustrations, perhaps veering just a tad close to excessive and the quality of production, you're going to have to search long and hard for a reason not to purchase a copy.
"The last thing I wanted to do was get back on a bike, but I wanted to do a lap of honour to thank the fans for coming along."
'my hour' by bradley wiggins is published by yellow jersey press on thursday 19 november.
wednesday 18 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................