The world hour record, the stuff of legend, ‘the blue riband’ of cycling records.
We all know that Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts is current men’s record holder with 55.089km.
But who holds the women’s record? British cyclist Joss Lowden took the record a few weeks ago, covering a distance of 48.405km at the Grenchen velodrome in Switzerland. The 33-year-old added nearly 400 metres to the previous mark of 48.007km set by Doctor in Pure Mathematics, Ms. Vittoria Bussi of Italy at altitude on the boards of the Aguascalientes velodrome in Mexico in 2018.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Bussi’s achievement isn’t as well-known as that of Campenaerts given that the since the UCI ‘unified’ the record in 2014 there have been 19 attempts on the men’s record – with six successful – but just eight by women, with five successes.
We’ll be running an interview with Joss soon but meantime we thought it would good to talk with the previous ‘Woman of the Hour,’ Ms. Bussi about her record, and she recently took time to speak with us here at VeloVeritas.
Was it your background in mathematics which made the Hour with all of those numbers – distance/gearing/watts/rpm – which made it so appealing?
“Actually, no, it was to escape from a bad situation, it was not so much about cycling as to escape from the pain inside of losing my father.
“I felt I had to tackle something really big, for both of us.”
How did the process begin?
“I came late to cycling so I wasn’t good in the peloton, I didn’t have the bike handling skills but people around me told me that I had good power and that I would be suited to the time trial – and the Hour is the ultimate time trial.”
You went for the record in 2017 at Aguascalientes but failed to set a world record, although you did set an Italian record – who funded the attempt and handled the logistics?
“It was self-funded, I wasn’t well known so there was no belief in me from sponsors so they wouldn’t invest.
“The second, successful trip to Aguascalientes was funded by the Scottish cycling clothing company, Endura.
“As for the logistics, that became my job, I stopped my career in mathematics and worked full time on travel, accommodation, hiring the velodrome, bureaucracy with the UCI – time keepers, commissaires, doping control…”
Who coached you for the successful attempt?
“Tom Kirk of Custom Cycle Coaching coaching and lifestyle consultancy based in Birmingham, UK was my coach.
“I met him at Oxford University when I was doing my PhD in pure mathematics there.”
Your position looked very ‘dialled,’ did you spend a lot of time in the wind tunnel?
“Just one session in the wind tunnel but we did a lot of aero testing on the velodrome.”
Who selected and prepared your machine?
“I did that myself, it was a Giant Liv and I researched the best mix of components for it myself; I studied and tested until I had the best combination for me.”
And your gear ratio?
“That’s perhaps the most difficult decision of the whole enterprise, it was a last minute decision, even the day before I was asking myself the question:
“How do you know how the gear will feel after 50 minutes?
“Eventually I settled on 59 x 15.” [That’s 106.2” by the British method of classification of gear ratios, ed.]
And Endura supplied the ‘speedsuit?’
“Yes, they collaborated with aero expert Simon Smart at Drag2zero and the result was the D2Z Encapsulator speedsuit and D2Z Aeroswitch helmet.”
What lessons did you take away from your 2017 failed Hour attempt?
“The main thing was that the position I had was too extreme, it was really aero but I couldn’t maintain power and my breathing just collapsed.
“We went into the wind tunnel after that and as a result raised my handlebars, it wasn’t as aero a position, it was a compromise but it meant I could maintain the power.”
Tell us about your acclimatisation to altitude?
“We obviously have mountains in Italy and I trained there to acclimatise but Mexico was very different with low humidity and very dry air which does not have so much oxygen – that took a bit of getting used to and I had to acclimatise all over again.”
And when you broke the record, you ‘did an Obree’ with an unsuccessful attempt the day before you took the record in 2018?
“There was a lot of pressure on me on that first day, maybe too much?
“I had too much focus and couldn’t enjoy the experience, at 45 minutes I was on the pace but the ‘flow’ just wasn’t there.
“The next day I found the ‘flow’ and the atmospherics were better too.”
Your margin of success over Evelyn Stevens was slim – just 27 metres.
“I had trained to achieve on more lap but theory is one thing and reality quite another!
“My power throughout was good and I was just happy to beat the existing record.”
Looking back, what would you do differently?
“I think I would enlist more help on the organisational side; that really was a big effort, the flights, the hotels and all of the UCI organisational aspects.”
Was your successful bid a ‘once in a lifetime’ or would you consider another attempt?
“Right now, I wouldn’t, no.
“I have the record and I have other goals – none of the ‘big names’ in cycling seem to be interested in going for it but if someone broke my record then I may consider going again.
“The dry air I spoke of in Mexico means that if I did then I might seek out a sea level track, the times on the Olympic Velodrome in Tokyo suggest that it’s very fast.
“The thing about the Hour is that it’s something you do for yourself, no one else.”
You won the time trial in the Tour de Feminin in the Czech Republic recently, what’s your next goal?
“I’m working towards the European Time Trial Championships in Trento – that’s where my focus is right now and things are going well…” [Vittoria finished 8th in Treno, ed.]
With thanks to Vittoria for her time with this interview.