Feature – Making of Dowsett’s #PerfectHour


Gordon Wiseman talks to Alex Dowsett and the making of the #PerfectHour at Manchester on Saturday

RST Cycle  Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Feature – Making of Dowsett’s #PerfectHour

by Gordon Wiseman
This coming Saturday afternoon, around the smooth Manchester velodrome boards, at 1pm Alex Dowsett (Movistar Team) will set off on a journey of just 60 minutes that, at the end of which, he hopes to have set a new World Record distance for cycling’s iconic Blue Riband event, the Hour Record.


VeloUK.net caught up with the 26 year old at the end of a full – and he candidly later pointed out – painful week’s training that culminated on Friday with a split session: 90 minutes in the morning at just under the Hour pace to be followed by an even more demanding 60 minute turbo session at just above that required to claim the record.

More than 9 to 5
“This has become all-consuming” Alex explained. “This attempt on the Hour is all I’ve thought about since I first started training late last year. And because what I have to do is so quantifiable I just know how hard and how deep into myself I’ve got to go.

“Thinking about it so much also makes it so stressful, creating pressure like I’ve never felt before. You end up thinking ‘if I go to bed at 10 rather than 9 might I lose 20m? What if I miss a session, will that be another 15m?’

“But the good thing is, because it’s so quantifiable, I know I’m ahead of where I was before I broke my collarbone in January. There’s been some setbacks, the odd cold, that sort of thing but mentally and physically I feel stronger and the numbers are telling me the same thing”.

The mental angle is something Alex also referred to early on in the conversation. “With the Hour, once you start you can’t stop so I know the pain element is also going to be huge. Out on the road, in a time trial, there’s usually some point when you can back off a little bit, perhaps going into a technical set of bends, but on the track you just can’t back off, it’s just go, full-on all the time”.


As has been well reported, Dowsett was supposed to have made an attempt on the Hour at the end of February but an unfortunate training accident in January saw him break his collarbone and that period off the bike was enough to disrupt his plans and a postponement was necessary.

“In fact I was back on the bike and out on the road after surgery in about 8 days but the insurers said I had to give myself more time so that took me back off the bike which put me back enough that we had to postpone my attempt”.

The accident was one of those “I hope no one is watching” moments known to many competitive cyclists. “It was a mechanical problem that caused my fall. I was practicing standings starts, my chain came off and I fell. I thought I was going to catch it but, basically I just wobbled over and that was my collarbone, gone.

“But I knew by the end of January that I still wanted to go ahead, it seemed a waste not to do so after so much effort in training for the aborted February attempt. And my team have been fantastic, they’ve fully supported me throughout”.

Training at the Lea Valley Olympic Park has created others problems as well. With their own pre-planned schedule of day-to-day events to be taken into account Alex has had to fit his track sessions into whatever times were available. And that’s usually meant he’s on the track at 8am meaning he has to be up at 5.15am. And more often than not that will have been after a 5 hour road session the day before.

“But I’m so determined to do this well that I’m always expecting to be able to nail every session and if I don’t, I heap more pressure on myself! But there’s a reason why I’m doing this and so when things don’t go as I want them to I think about that”.


The Bigger Picture
The ‘that’ Alex is referring to is something that’s been a part of his life since he was born, his haemophilia. But because he’s an Elite athlete his successes have come to mean so much to the haemophilia community as a whole.

“I know from the work I do in and for the haemophilia community that my winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games had an enormous impact on the families that support young children with the condition just as my parents supported and still support me. They don’t know that much about my winning the Giro stage but they know about my gold medal.

“And that Movistar have so bought into the whole thing is just fantastic so I want to do this for them as well.

“Yes, having come so far I don’t ‘just’ want to have this attempt on the Hour, I know how huge this is in cycling terms so I want to break the record. But to have that world record will be another huge success to share with all the other families who are supporting a child with the haemophilia. And breaking the Hour I’m hoping those families can be even more inspired to encourage their children to lead a healthy, active life despite having the condition”.

“I beat Dennis at the Commies and I’d like to think that when we’re both at the top of our form I can beat him in a time trial. He might have a better track pedigree but the Hour is something different again and I’ve ridden literally thousands of laps at Manchester when I rode for the Olympic Development Programme so I know I’ve got a good chance”.


Previous Hours
In this modern era, racing cyclists, more often than not, specialise in one discipline or another; one-day riders, stage racing specialists, climbers or, as in the case of Alex, time trialling.

But the Hour is an event like no other and attracts riders from all of cycling’s disciplines.

Interest in the Hour was reignited early last year when the sport’s governing body, the UCI, updated the technical regulations for the event and since then there have been six attempts at the Hour with a new record distance of 52.491kms having been set on 8 February by Australia’s Rohan Dennis.

Dowsett knew about that attempt through the winter when he was training for his own ride at the end of that month and knows Dennis to be a worthy record holder. The two compete regularly through the year with them both being ‘testers’ and he beat the Aussie to gold in the Commonwealths but knows that doesn’t mean he’ll beat the Aussie in this very specialist competition.

“I beat Dennis at the Commies and I’d like to think that when we’re both at the top of our form I can beat him in a time trial. He might have a better track pedigree but the Hour is something different again and I’ve ridden literally thousands of laps at Manchester when I rode for the Olympic Development Programme so I know I’ve got a good chance”.

Jack Bobridge tried to break the Hour the week before Dennis and Dowsett says he learned a lot from that effort.

“The month before Bobridge rode he was really upbeat and talked about wanting to put the record out of sight. Then, about the week before his ride he spoke about just wanting the beat it. I think in that short space of time he’d started to understand exactly what was involved.

“I can understand that. Obviously I want to set a tough target for anyone else to have to beat but first I’ve got to be on pace and then beat Dennis’ record. I think anyone who wants to attack the Hour will have learned a lot about pacing from what Bobridge did, especially the first 30 minutes of the ride.

“At present my plan is to ride the first 30 minutes at the same pace set by Dennis. And at that point I’ll know if I’m in a position to beat the Hour by just metres or really put something into it.

“Before Dennis, Matthias Brandle had set the record lapping at 17.3s per lap. Up to breaking my collarbone that’s what my training had been based on. Dennis brought that down to 17.1s a lap so that’s what I’ve now been training at including my second session later today. So that again is about pacing.

“I know it’s a cliché but in the Hour there’s no prizes for coming second, you break it or you don’t. I want to so I learn from those who’ve ridden before me”.

Although Alex acknowledges the track pedigree of Dennis, he’s got a solid track background himself from his days as part of the Olympic Development Programme. “I must have ridden thousands of laps on the track with the Academy” Alex mused.

But that background and all those thousands of laps mean Dowsett is fully aware of the importance of track technique and ‘stickling close to the line’.

“The G forces involved in riding lap after lap after lap, hugging the black line at the bottom of the track’ – from which a rider’s distance over the Hour is measured – ‘will be enormous. But that’s why I’ve trained for hour after hour.

“I understand that for Jens, because he didn’t have such a track background and so kept riding above the line, he actually covered 200m more than his measured distance”.

A stat like that alone is enough to underline the need for all those hours of training, going round and round. And round again.

Techno Techno
One thing that Alex won’t be short of is the high level of technical support required.

“Technically it’s been really interesting to me. We recently spent a day in the Mercedes F1 team’s wind tunnel finessing my bike position because obviously aerodynamics makes a huge difference in the Hour. There were about 10-15 guys there all contributing something different. But what was interesting was things we thought would work didn’t and vice versa.

“The team’s clothing providers, Endura, have been working really hard at this and developing even better clothing for me. The skinsuit they made for me at the Commonwealths was fast but what they’ve now developed, that’s Really Fast.

“Canyon have converted their Speedmax time trial frame for use on the track. That must be the quickest TT frame out there at present”. At the Circuit de la Sarthe time trial – where Alex finished second overall to team mate Adriano Malori – six of the top 15, four of the top 6 were all on that Speedmax frame, it’s fast.

“Campag have made me some Seriously quick track wheels and power2max have provided some special cranks.

“I really can’t thank everyone enough for the technical support. And Movistar have just been brilliant. Like I said earlier, they’ve completely bought into why I want to go for the Hour and from their involvement in it before’ – Miguel Indurain broke the Hour in 1994 when riding for Banesto, one of the earlier manifestations of Eusebio Unzue’s current Movistar outfit – ‘they know just how big this is and what an enormous prize it is for both the team and rider alike”.

“There’s other little bits and pieces still to come but they’re for me to know’ said Dowsett, laughing – ‘that’ll all add up to making that extra difference”.

Now where have we heard that before recently?

“All the smaller parts add up to making a difference. The less power I have to put out to put out the speed I’ll need to be riding at means I need to put in less effort which means I can sustain the pace longer and so ride harder. And that is what I hope will get me those extra metres”.

2013 Giro winner's podium Dowsett

Back Room
But Alex has also been receiving support from closer sources as well.

As well as being trained by Mark Walker of Writtle College – who Dowsett has been working with since last year – Athlon Sport’s Steve Collins has been at virtually every one of the London track sessions, calmly timing and logging every single lap.

“Steve and I go a long way back and he’s been an absolute gem. He’s been with me at the velodrome for session after session as I’ve lapped the track and he’s kept count and timed each lap I’ve covered. And as we’ve had to train on the track before their regular booked sessions, we’ve had to be at Lea Valley and ready to train by 8am for each session so he’s been getting up as early as me as well”.

The background effort has also involved sorting out the track to use. For the February attempt Alex was running alongside one of the winter’s Revolution meetings but now his management team – led by three time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sky Andrew – have had to make all these arrangements themselves. And with little help being provided by the London track, Manchester was the place to go.

“They’ve been really accommodating so I’m quite happy to be riding at the National Cycling Centre and, of course, I know the track from my Academy days”.

Sunday 3 May
Having spent so much time and effort, having been so focussed on the 60 minutes starting at 1pm on Saturday afternoon, has Alex had much of a chance to think about; what happens next, for the rest of his road season?

At the launch of the #PerfectHour in December, Alex spoke about the team having him in mind for their Tour long squad – where his experience riding at the front for hour after hour would be invaluable in helping Nairo Quintana in the opening flat stages – but with his relative lack of road miles this year because he’s been focussing on the Hour, is that still a possibility?

“It is but the team have told me, ‘concentrate on the Hour. That’s all, then let’s see’. We’re hoping that with a new world record under my belt I’ll be on the BBC’s Breakfast Time on Sunday morning and then it’ll be back home for a mate’s birthday BBQ. Where, yes, I might spoil myself!”

And what of others who may want to attack Alex’ hoped for new record distance? He knows there’s others lined up with their own attempt for later this summer and yet others who might throw their hat into the ring, but for now, all Alex wants to think about after Saturday is a birthday BBQ beer!

The Hour hasn’t gained near mythical status to bike racing aficionados for nothing. Under previous regulations the list of Hour record holders looks like a Who’s Who of the sport. Coppi, Merckx, Indurain and Boardman have all broken the record.

Thinking back to the Commonwealth Games, Dowsett beat Dennis by just 9.3 seconds. If he maintains that comparable speed differential on Saturday he’ll claim the Hour Record by some 130 metres. Not a huge amount in view of the effort he’ll have to expend to do so. But after 60 gut wrenching minutes that’ll be more than enough to have made his day’s work Dowsett’s #PerfectHour!

Send your results as well as club, team & event news here

Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK

Tags: , ,