June 7th 2015, and a nation’s cycling fans gathered around their TV sets to watch Bradley Wiggins attempt ‘The Hour’.
(Also, apparently, known as #thehour, #myhour, #theperfecthour, and #manridingaroundatrackforanhour, depending on your social media platform of choice.)
For those not familiar with ‘The Hour’, it’s not the tacky Saturday night TV celebrity game show that the title suggests, but a simple test of how far a man can ride a bike in sixty minutes.
In the run-up to Sir Wiggo’s record attempt – a run-up which seemed to go on for a couple of years – anyone who might have any expertise whatsoever in the area of riding around a track for an hour as fast as you can whilst enduring increasingly intolerable levels of pain, was asked for their view.
All expert opinion seemed to be consistent on this, and concluded that he would “easily do it”, “smash it”, “put it right up on a shelf where no-one can reach it” and that, “if ever an event was invented for Sir Brad then this is it”.
It was a foregone conclusion then, which meant the whole thing was in danger of becoming a non-event.
Luckily, Sky Sports were on hand just to make absolutely sure that we fully understood the gravity, the drama, and the shear “legend-ness” of it; their word (probably) not mine. It’s fair to say that those folks at Sky Sports will never knowingly undersell a sporting event, even when it’s just a man on his own riding around a track for an hour.
And so we were subjected to the kind of ever-so-slightly-bonkers analysis that Sky Sports specialise in.
I am paraphrasing slightly here (the sheer nonsense of this insight from the commentary team threw me slightly), but at one point they definitely talked about “how touching this whole thing is, that Sir Brad would put himself through all this for us, and what a privilege and an honour it is to be bearing witness…”
Excuse me, sorry?
Touching? For us?
He was probably very pleased that we were all so excited about it and had come along to watch, but I’m not sure he was doing it ‘for us’, exactly.
Being, as I said, basically a man riding around in a circle for an hour, the record attempt was interspersed with clips and interviews and various added extras to keep us interested.
The most memorable, for me, was when we got to hear the views of Shane Sutton, head honcho of British Cycling, who gave us this little pearl of wisdom (and again, I’m paraphrasing):
“When it gets tough in those last 10 minutes and the pain really starts to kick in, Bradley will be OK because he will be able to draw on his greatness”.
Oh, if only I could draw on my ‘greatness’ to help me deal with life’s trials and tribulations; there are definitely times when a good dollop of ‘greatness’ is exactly what I need to get me through the day.
The acclaim at the end was gushing, of course, and fair enough; to ride 54.526 km in one hour, and break the current record by more than a kilometre and a half is pretty special (greatness, or no greatness).
Having said that, the experts may have gone slightly over the top with wonder at the fact that “after all that, he can still manage to lift a bike over his head” for the post-ride photos.
— roadcyclinguk (@roadcyclinguk) June 8, 2015
Given that the obligatory ‘bike-above-head’ shot is probably a contractual agreement with Pinarello, I imagine Wiggo, being the consummate professional, probably kept a bit of energy in reserve for that very (taxing) moment.
But if we needed final proof that baby-face Brad – as track-side expert Rob Hayles referred to the freshly shaven knight of the realm – is truly the man who can set a plan and stick to it, the fact that they had a commemorative jersey pre-sewn with the record distance for him to slip into afterwards is exactly that.
Seriously, to be able to ride the exact distance that they’d had sewn into the jersey is impressive!
The theory via the TV coverage was that they simply waited for him to finish, and then embroidered “54.526km” onto some waiting Rapha kit in double quick time – but that just doesn’t hold water with me…
There is a limit to human achievement, after all.