The Hour Record
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  Posted August 24th, 2017 by Zdenko  in Cycling | One comment

Retro fabulous

The Cycling World Hour Record is the most famous record in cycling. The hour record is established by riding the furthest distance on a velodrome in the time of 60 minutes. From 1893 to 2009 the best cyclists in the World have held the hour record including legends like Fausto Coppi or Eddy Merckx.

In all these years the hour record has seen innovative equipment. But on september 9th 2000, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale – International Cycling Union) decided to create a “UCI Hour Record” as well as a “Best Hour Performance”. The International Cycling Union (UCI) standardised equipment limits in 2000. It banned aero helmets, wheels and frames.

In 1972, the legendary Eddie Merckx set the World Hour Record on this bike. 

Eddy Merckx’s 1972 Hour Record bicycle, on display at Eddy Merckx metro station in Brussels.
Eddy Merckx set a record of 49.431km (30.715 mi) that stood for 12 years.

 From that day, the UCI Hour Record was the one that Eddy Merckx achieved in Mexico on 25th October 1972, covering a distance of 49.43195 km. This UCI Hour Record can only be attempted if the equipment is presented and checked beforehand by the UCI and it must be similar to that used by Merckx. I think this rule is nonsense !!! There should be some reglementations, but also some creativity! I don’t know any other sport which stepped back 30 years in history…

Fausto Coppi 1942 Hour Record 

 Czech Ondrej Sosenka set the current hour record of 49.7 kilometres in Moscow, July 19, 2005. Before Sosenka, Brit Chris Boardman (49.441km) in 2000 and Belgian Eddy Merckx (49.431km) in 1972 made successful record attempts.

The last world record set in Italy was in 1967 at the Rome Olympic Velodrome by Belgian Ferdi Bracke. He beat the distance set by Frenchman Roger Rivière eight years earlier, 48.093 kilometres.

The records on this page are true “hour records” from 1893 until 1996 (so far…)!!!

Chronic of the hour record

Rider Nation. Location Date Gearing Bike Weight (g) Crank Arm Cadence (rpm)
35.325 Henri Desgrange FRA Paris  11.5.1893        
38.220 Jules Dubois FRA Paris  31.10.1894        
39.240 Marcel Van den Eynde BEL Paris  30.7.1897        
40.781 Willie Hamilton USA  Denver  9.7.1898        
41.110 Lucien Petit-Breton FRA Paris  24.08.1905        
41.520 Marcel Berthet FRA Paris  20.06.1907        
42.122 Oscar Egg ZWI Paris  26.08.1912 34×7=7,22m(2) 8500   97,2
42.306 0 Richard Weise WDL Berlin  27.7.1913        
42.741 Marcel Berthet FRA Paris  07.08.1913        
43.525 Oscar Egg ZWI Paris  21.08.1913        
43.775 Marcel Berthet FRA Paris  21.09.1913        
44.247 Oscar Egg ZWI Paris  18.06.1914 24×7=7,22m     102,1
44.588 Jan Van Hout NED Roermond 25.08.1933        
44.777 Maurice Richard FRA St. Truiden 29.08.1933 24×7=7,32m 8500   101,9
45.090 Giuseppe Olmo ITA Milano 31.10.1935 24×7=7,32m 8000   102,7
45.398 Maurice Richard FRA Milano 14.10.1936 24×7=7,32m 8000 172 103,4
45.558 Frans Slaats NED Milano 29.09.1937 24×7=7,32m 8000   103,7
45.840 Maurice Archambaud FRA Milano 04.11.1937 24×7=7,32m   171 104,4
45.871 Fausto Coppi ITA Milano 07.11.1942 52×15=7,40m 9500 171 103,3
46.159 Jacques Anquetil FRA Milano 29.06.1956 52×15=7,40m 7300   104,0
46.393 Ercole Baldini ITA Milano 19.09.1956   6450    
46.924 Roger Riviere FRA Milano 18.09.1957 52×15=7,40m 6450 171 105,7
47.346 Roger Riviere FRA Milano 23.09.1958 53×15=7,54m 6850 175 104,7
47.493 1 Jaques Anquetil FRA Milano 27.09.1967 52×13=8,54m 6690 175 92,7
48.093 Ferdinand Bracke BEL Rome  30.10.1967 53×15=7,54m 5960 175 106,3
48.653 Ole Ritter DEN Mexico City  10.10.1968 54×15=7,69m 7000 175 105,4
49.431 Eddy Merckx BEL Mexico City  25.10.1972 52×14=7,93m 5750 175 103,9
50.808 Francesco Moser ITA Mexico City  19.01.1984 56×15=8,12m 7850 175 104,3
51.151 Francesco Moser ITA Mexico City  23.01.1984 57×15=8,27m 7500 175 103,1
51.596 Graeme Obree GBR Hamar 17.07.1993 52×12=9,25m   175 93,0
52.270 Chris Boardman GBR Bordeaux  23.07.1993 53×13=8,56m 7100 175 101,8
52.713 Graeme Obree GBR Bordeaux  27.04.1994     175  
53.040 Miguel Indurain ESP Bordeaux  02.09.1994 59×14=8,76m 6500 190 100,9
53.832 Tony Rominger ZWI Bordeaux  22.10.1994 59×14=8,85m 8300 172,5 101,4
55.291 Tony Rominger ZWI Bordeaux  05.11.1994 60×14=9.02m 8300 172,5 102,2
56.375 Chris Boardman GBR Manchester  06.09.1996 56×13=8,95m   170 ? 105,0

Unofficial after remeasurement of the track 1 unofficial record, because Anquetil did not show up at the drug test.


Francesco Moser 1984 Hour Record

This table could be found in the german “Bruegelmann-Radsport” Catalog some years ago…

Hour records since 1984 with split times

DIST Moser 23.01.84 Obree 17.07.93 Boardman 23.07.93 Obree 27.04.94 Indurain 02.09.94 Rominger 29.10.94 Rominger 05.11.94 Boardman 06.09.96
1 km         01’14.5” 01’12.6” 01’10.6” 01’10.8”
5 km 05’47.2” 05’47.1” 05’48.5” 5’39.0” 05’43.9″ 05’39.1″ 05’30.3″ 05’27.0″
10 km 11’40.7” 11’32.9” 11’30.8” 11’18.1” 11’20.0″ 11’10.4″ 10’53.5″ 10’47.1”
15 km 17’30.5” 17’22.1” 17’13.4” 16’57.0” 16’58.9″ 16’42.4″ 16’17.2″ 16’05.5”
20 km 23’21.6” 23’11.4” 22’56.5” 22’39.0” 22’38.5″ 22’15.6″ 21’42.9″ 21’23.9″
25 km 29’14.8” 29’00.5” 28’41.5” 28’21.9” 28’18.3″ 27’49.7″ 27’08.7″ 26’42.5”
30 km 35’07.8” 34’50.8” 34’25.5” 34’04.3” 33’58.3″ 33’26.3″ 32’25.0″ 32’00.5″
35 km 41’00.3” 40’39.8” 40’11.1” 39’46.9” 39’33.4″ 39’02.4″ 38’00.5″ 37’20.7”
40 km 46’52.0” 46’30.4” 45’57.3” 45’30.7” 45’13.8″ 44’36.9″ 43’26.9″ 42’41.3″
45 km 52’45.9” 52’20.0” 51’43.4” 51’14.0” 50’55.9″ 50’12.6″ 48’53.6″ 48’01.1”
50 km 58’40.1” 58’09.5” 57’28.7” 56’54.5” 56’34.2″ 55’48.2″ 54’18.7″ 53’21.7″
55 km             59’41.7″  
1 hour 51.151 km 51.596 km 52.270 km 52,713 km 53.040 km 53.832 km 55.291 km 56.375

 Grame Obree 1993 Hour Record

 Most successful attempts

  • 3 successful attempts: Marcel Berthet, Oscar Egg, Chris Boardman
  • 2 successful attempts: Maurice Richard, Roger Rivière, Francesco Moser, Graeme Obree, Toni Rominger
  • Anquetil made two successful attempts but his second was disallowed after he refused, on principle, to attend the then newly-introduced doping control.

Best British Performances

  • 3 successful attempts: Chris Boardman, 1993, 1996, 2000 Boardman is the current record holder of the “Athlete’s Hour” (new rules) and the last holder under the previous rules, where there was little restriction on bike design.
  • 2 successful attempts: Graeme Obree, 1993 and 1994

Chris Boardman 1996 Hour Record


One glance at the palmarès presented below should convince anyone that a discussion of the Hour record belongs on a site primarily concerned with road racing. For of track events, the hour record uniquely seems always to fascinate the best riders of each generation: and I am sure that for everyone who knows the current holder of the world 4km record, there are ten who could name the holder of the hour – though in fact they are both the same rider.

The record falls neatly into four stages:

  • From Desgrange to Archambaud
  • From Coppi to Merckx
  • From Moser to Boardman
  • Boardman, anno 2000

Henri Desgrange, a legal clerk from Paris, was the first holder of the record, giving, so he said, something for the others to aim at. Of course, Desgrange was to go on to greater fame as the originator of the Tour de France, but his record held for just over a year until improved by Jules Dubois. Thereafter it rose in fits and starts; sometimes leaping ahead (as during the great rivalry between Marcel Berthet and Oscar Egg); at other times stagnating for years at a time (Egg’s final record stood for 19 years). Of these early holders there is only one truly great name, that of Lucien Petit-Breton, though many of the other holders had some success on the road also.

Phase two of the record began during the height of the war when Fausto Coppi broke the record of Maurice Archambaud by a scant 31 metres – the smallest breaking of the record until the year 2000 – of which more anon. News of Coppi’s record – which can hardly have been achieved under ideal circumstances, with air raids over Milan a frequent occurrence – only leaked out slowly. Moreover, in 1942 Coppi was relatively unknown outside Italy, and at that stage of his career had neither won a classic nor even raced in France. Thus there were those who initially doubted that Archambaud’s record had been taken. Yet despite this miniscule beating, it was to be 14 years before Coppi’s record was beaten. By the early ‘fifties, such was Coppi’s reputation that it was said that the record was unbeatable: not because of the distance, but because of the holder. As it was, it took another rider on the verge of greatness to break the record: Jacques Anquetil. Thereafter the spell was lifted, and another flurry of record breaking ensued. Anquetil himself “broke” the record again in 1967, but in the confusion at the end of the hour, the correct drug-testing protocols were not followed and the record was never ratified. Fortunately, his distance was soon bettered, and then taken to a new level again by Ole Ritter, the first rider to take the record at altitude since Willie Hamilton in 1898. Finally, this second phase of record breaking was capped by the great Eddy Merckx, who broke the record at the end of his magnificent 1972 season, and promptly said that it had been the hardest event he had ever ridden.

Once again the record went into abeyance. A lesser rider could surely not hope to beat Merckx at his peak, whereas for the great riders, there was too much at stake to attempt the record and fail. Thus it was not until 1984 that the record was successfully broken. The rider was Francesco Moser, benefitting from all that modern science could bring in terms of aerodynamics and modern training methods. Not only did Moser succeed in pushing the record past 50 kilometers for the first time, but he found it so easy that he attacked the record – successfully – again four days later. The modern technological era of record breaking had arrived, making comparisons between holders even more fraught than usual.

Somewhat surprisingly, Moser’s record also had the effect of scaring off the opposition – names like Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly, Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon are notable by their absence from this list – and it took the Scottish maverick Graeme Obree to beat the record on a bike with a revolutionary position of his own devising. Remarkably, Obree had tried – and failed – to break the record on the previous day, falling less than 1kilometre short. “A good effort” thought the assembled hacks, as they packed up to leave, and Obree practically had to beg the officials to stay in order to witness his attempt the next day – which was successful! He was an instant megastar, fêted across Europe for his weird ideas. (What is a little sad, however, is that in the euphoria over his home-built bike, his athletic prowess got somehow ignored).


One rider who wasn’t cheering Obree on was Chris Boardman, destined to be one of the great names in the hour record, for Obree’s ride must have distracted Boardman’s concentration. A lot was at stake, for Boardman had planned his record at Bordeaux to coincide with a Tour de France stage finish. In front of a few hundred French schoolchildren (and your intrepid scribe, on the way back from a cycling holiday in the Pyrenees!), Boardman broke Obree’s record: later in the day he shared a podium with a frankly rather bemused Miguel Indurain. Another flurry of record breaking took place: Obree again, then a conservative ride from Indurain to pass 53 kilometres, then two rides in almost total secrecy from Toni Rominger. Indurain tried – and failed – to break the record again in Colombia after the 1995 Worlds: pressure from his manager to perform seems likely to have driven him to retire the next year. Finally the “technological” records were culminated by the quite extraordinary ride of Chris Boardman in Manchester, 1996: 56.375 kilometres, or about 35 miles per hour. This record came a few days after he had beaten the 4 kilometre record – and won the world title – with a ride of 4’11.114″. At that stage in his career, Boardman was on fire.


Finally, to the modern era of the “Athlete’s Hour”. Worried that the athletic aspects of cycling were being overshadowed by the technological, the UCI – prompted by Boardman – suggested a new set of rules for bicyles, equating roughly to a “Merckx-era” bike. Tubes had to be round; rims shallower than a 2cm depth; at least 16 spoke wheels; no aero helmets, or tribars. Boardman himself also wanted all rides to be at less than 600 metres of altitude, but this was not written into the final rules. Thus it was that in the twilight of his career, Chris Boardman set off one more time on the “ride to nowehere”, this time during an afternoon session of the 2000 World Championships. The pressure to succeed was immense, as he set off in front of several thousand partisan spectators. Initially, all went well as he steadily gained time on his schedule, to reach a maximum advance of around 200 metres after 25 minutes. Thereafter, he started to fall back, until with just three minutes to go, he was a full 40 metres behind Merckx. Meanwhile, the crowd was close to hysteria, as Boardman dragged every last morsel of energy from his body. When the gun fired, the distance was revealed to be 49.441 kilomtres: just 10 metres up on Merckx, but 10 metres that had erased the memories of Boardman’s troubled final years of his career – and even, for once, put cycling’s troubled present into the background for a little while.

Next stop 50 kilometres: perhaps by Lance Armstrong or Fabian Cancellara …


The Impossible Hour Part 5 of 5 (Ole Ritter, Hour Record Attempt)


Eddy Merckx beats the one hour record in 1972

By Zdenko Kahlina



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One comment to “The Hour Record”

  1. Comment by Jessia Compere:

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