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History on Tap for Sunday

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Checking in on Sir Bradley Wiggins' upcoming Hour Record challenge

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On Sunday, Bradley Wiggins, former Tour de France winner and cycling history adventurer par excellence, will take on the record books in a big way, gunning not just for the Hour Record but for an Hour Record that he can carry around a while. This is always where things had to go since the Hour Record Revival began. Last year the UCI changed the rules to a unified record, more or less tossing the technologically silly efforts of the 1990s to a dustbin with the words "best human effort" printed on the side, and giving a chance for the Hour Record to reclaim its past relevance. [Happy coincidence #1: we can all forget about the 1990s now.]

And reclaim it has, in interesting ways. First, it returned at all, but significantly it returned in the form of Jens! Voigt, long recognized as one of the sport's great showmen [happy coincidence #2]. Outfitted cleverly in team kit and with disc wheels done as stopwatch faces, Voigt could be seen live, online, as he set an impressive new standard. The record stopped right there and then being an unwatchable battle of aerodynamic engineers, and became once again a good show, not unlike watching guys at the circus perform incredible feats of strength. It was fun, as fun as a guy on a bike going around in circles could be.

Then came a slew of attempts from riders who sometimes succeeded in extending the record but failed to hold our attention like Voigt did. Matti Brandle pushed the standard out to nearly 52km, then Rohan Dennis pushed it beyond... only for Matt Dowsett to push the record to just shy of 53km (52.937). Jack Bobridge, Thomas Dekker and Gustav Erik Larsson all tried and failed to own the record, though the latter two now own their home-nation's best mark. All this happened in about eight months, after no new record since 1968 and no attempts beyond 2003.

But as brilliant as each of these riders is, even in "failure," none of their attempts did much for the record itself. Wiggins is here to change all that. In addition to his 2012 Tour win, he is the current holder of both the World Time Trial championship and the Olympic ITT gold medal. By every objective standard, and a few subjective ones as well, he is the single most relevant person for the Hour Record attempt, at least outside of maybe some track guys I'm not familiar with. And even there, this is a record for road cyclists. They're the show we want to see. Sir Bradley is the man for the job of making this the most exciting Hour Record effort to date, maybe since Merckx in 1972.

Personally I have zero doubt he will succeed. He's been OK this season against the watch, winning De Panne's short ITT the last time he put on his rainbow stripes. But Wiggins' greatest failures have been when he's thrown caution to the wind and attempted events which are simply tricky for him (e.g., the Giro), and greatest successes have come when left to train alone, where he excels in pushing himself beyond reasonable limits, or so they say. Well, the latter is a good way to describe his time since stopping as a Sky teammate after Paris-Roubaix. He is just too strong when he's prepared this way to be stopped. I think he not only sets it but smashes it. Don't ask me for numbers, I don't crunch wattage stats enough to know what an extra kilometer would mean, but it'll be something.

Cycling's crono podium is a great one right now, as we live in the primes of three all-time crono heroes: Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin. Each has been dominant, and truly breathtaking, at times, to the point where they have made what can be a clinical event truly exciting to watch. When Wiggins finishes up, the gauntlet will have been thrown down to these two. Cancellara said in February that he "lost motivation" to attempt the record, and that was before injuries wrecked his spring season. But he's an all-time great competitor, and it will be quite interesting indeed to hear what he has to say after Sunday. Then there is Martin, who has indicated his interest. Neither of these two is the trackster Wiggins is, and maybe they will forego attempting anything as a result. But just talking about this kind of competition is great fun. And if it falls to less notorious time triallists to pursue a new Wiggins standard, e.g. Dowsett and Dennis, then that too will be great theater, thanks to Wiggins.

OK, want to place your bets now?