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Bobridge’s Hour of Pain

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.

A last-minute word from coach, Tim Decker.
A last-minute word from coach, Tim Decker.

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.

We are go.
We are go.

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.

He started so smoothly.
He started so smoothly.

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.

Decker screaming for more.
Decker screaming for more.

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.

The finish came two laps too soon.
The finish came two laps too soon.

Austral Wheel Race and Australian Madison Championships

Men’s keirin heats.
Anna Meares has the most amazing presence on the track, even when she’s rolling slow.
Anna Meares stalking her opponent.
Jack Bobridge peels off after a turn in the scratch race
Perkins and Lewis.
Peter Lewis and Shane Perkins duelling in the sprint.
Annette Edmondson was absolutely flying on the night – she came from scratch in the women’s Austral and powered to within half a wheel of victory. Later, she partnered with Jess Mundy to easily win the women’s Madison.
The men’s Austral was a frantic affair.
Jack Bobridge chased hard from scratch, but ran out of legs in the final lap. Still, he looked in great form for a guy who is in heavy training for an attempt on the Hour record.
The men’s scratch race.

More images can be found here.

Rohan and Jack, for an Hour

Rohan Dennis announced overnight that he will be attempting the Hour Record in 2015. He’s the second Australian this week to announce an attempt, coming a day after Jack Bobridge made a similar announcement.

They’ll make their attempts a week apart: Bobridge on January 31st, Dennis on February 8th, on opposite sides of the world.

This is the rivalry many Aussie fans will have been dreaming of: Bobridge the World Record holder for the individual pursuit, who has returned to the track to prepare for a serious tilt at Rio 2016 after years of (probably) unfulfilled potential in the World Tour; Dennis the former World Champion in the team pursuit, who’s been lighting up the pro road and time trial scene in a big way.

Dennis is now riding for Swiss-American mega-budget team BMC after a mid-2014 switch from Garmin-Sharp.

Bobridge is riding for the humble Australian Continental team Budget Forklifts, after stints at the top level with Belkin/Blanco and Orica-GreenEdge. In fact, the entire Australian track endurance squad has joined Budget Forklifts in a partnership with the national high performance programme, to make sure that the riders are free to concentrate on their track ambitions in the lead-up to Rio.

Dennis has stated that he is aiming to ride 53km (Matthias Brändle’s current record stands at 51.852km), which is probably what’s required given that Britain’s time trialling guns Alex Dowsett and Sir Bradley Wiggins are expected to announce their own attempts.

Dennis will make his attempt on February 8th in Grenchen, Switzerland, saying: 

“When I look at my experience on the track and the numbers I have been doing on the track and on the road, it is within reach. As long as I don’t get too excited at the start and control my nerves, the pacing will take care of itself.”

I think he’s probably right.

UPDATED: Bobridge will make his attempt on January 31 at DISC indoor velodrome in Melbourne – which I think gives him a good shot at claiming the record, but it’s anybody’s guess whether he can go further than Dennis. Certainly Bobridge’s track pedigree is impeccable, but his results on the road and in time trials over the past few years (he has struggled with rheumatoid arthritis) do not match those of his younger compatriot.

On first glance, Dennis seems to have the edge – a rider clearly on the rise, backed by a huge team budget, with all the technical and coaching benefits that entails, compared to Bobridge’s team which probably has an annual budget totalling less than it costs BMC to ride one Grand Tour.

But Bobridge seems energised by a return to the track, and a return to the AIS track programme which worked so well for him in the past. Budget Forklifts may only be a local team (although it is consistently one of the top teams in the NRS) but it has the sports science backing of the AIS, one of the best in the world.

Perhaps this is the moment where Bobridge reminds us all why he was once considered Australia’s next great cyclist.

Either way, fingers crossed for an Australian holder of the Hour, for the first time ever. Perhaps we could even have two.