It finished with an awkward silence. 1200 people shuffling in place, trying to process what had happened.
Jack Bobridge’s attempt to break the record for The Hour had fallen two laps short, and the hour of building tension and excitement evaporated into stunned quiet.
For an hour, the capacity crowd had cheered, stomped its feet and beaten its hands together, willing Bobridge around the banking.
For an hour, Bobridge had hummed across the boards in total isolation, first smoothly and effortlessly, gradually beginning to rock slightly, tension creeping into his back. By the final minutes his pedal stroke was brittle and his head was dropping, the screaming pain taking its toll.
He had started fast, too fast in hindsight, the graphs showing a pace well above what was required.
This lifted the crowd – our boy was on! – into exuberance, the optimism flowed freely as Jack’s hand-picked soundtrack echoed through the velodrome.
It was mesmeric, hypnotic, and deeply strange to watch.
In sport, we relish the contest, the battle. This was no contest, just a self-imposed torture with a stopwatch and a cheering crowd.
There’s no tactics, no surprise attacks. It’s just willpower, physiology and an opponent that could not be less indifferent. It must’ve been lonely out there, an empty track and the black line. I felt lonely in the packed crowd.
Your correspondent never did manage to find a seat, and floated around the venue, snapping pictures and soaking up the vibes from all corners.
The euphoria of early success, then ripples of concern as his lap times drifted upwards. A collective willing as the realisation that this thing was fucking close began to take shape.
Did Jack just overcook it? He certainly started a lot faster than Voigt or Brändle, setting a pace that tilted near 55km/h. With no power metre, he was riding by feel.
Perhaps Bobridge’s track instinct was too strong. For the fastest man ever over 4000m, settling into a natural rhythm means hitting it hard. With adrenaline and a big crowd focused on you, it would be easy to get carried away with the excitement.
The man who holds the hour record, Mattias Brändle, comes from the road. So too do most of the others who have held it: Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Moser, Indurain, Rominger, Voigt.
Obree and Boardman share Bobridge’s track background. Obree had the advantage of brilliant eccentricity, but even he failed at his first attempt – only to succeed 24 hours later in a brilliant demonstration that success is mostly above the shoulders. Obree has already told Bobridge to try again, this week, and get it done.
Boardman was a prodigious talent at the peak of his powers, but his best rides came later in his career than Bobridge is now.
Bobridge is also a freakish talent, but the whole world knows he has faced his challenges. His career has not followed the path that once seemed ordained. We need not go into it here, but things have not always gone Jack’s way. Sometimes it has been his fault, and other times not.
His return to his track roots seems to have reinvigorated him. At the Australian Madison championships and Austral Wheel Race in Melbourne in December, he carved up the boards like a laser through cheese. He was rhythmical, powerful, smooth, and gutsy.
In fact, he looks a different rider on a fixed gear.
A fantastic ride at the Nationals road race; an inspirational breakaway victory at the Tour Down Under that seemed to lift his whole team – showing that the World Tour should snatch him back as soon as his Rio 2016 ambitions are sated; and a week animating that race showed he was riding a serious wave of form and confidence.
Perhaps he gave too much at home in South Australia, and couldn’t quite recover. We’ll never know for sure.
What we know is that Jack Bobridge turned himself inside out for an hour, in front of a packed house of Melbourne’s most hardcore cycling fans, streamed live to the world.
He gave it absolutely everything.
Everyone was into it. In the final minutes I stood on the railings overlooking the second banking, yelling down the slope with all my voice, and glanced across to see the current World Champion in the Individual Pursuit, Alex Edmondson, doing the same.
Slightly further around, Australian criterium champion Steele Von Hoff was also getting involved.
1200 cycling fans whooping themselves raucous, desperately trying to get Jack Bobridge over an imaginary line. It wasn’t enough. When coach Tim Decker threw the watch away, we knew.
The finishing gun went. Silence fell, and we waited for the disappointing confirmation. We hadn’t witnessed a new world record.
Jack Bobridge is now the man who has ridden second-furthest in an hour. He may not have broken the record, but he’s earned the ever-lasting respect of everyone who watched him try.
Sport can be beautiful and brutal and honest and cruel, and on Saturday night it was all of those things.
Good luck to Rohan Dennis next week.