On July 20th at 9:30pm Central Time, cyclist Kevin Metcalfe shattered the Hour World Record for his age group. In 60 minutes time, the 55-year-old cyclist pedaled 49.121 kilometers (30.52 miles) around the Aguascalientes Velodrome, shattering the 55-59 age record by 1.38 kilometers—nearly a mile. Kevin was one of two athletes on the Peet’s Coffee Cycling Team that worked with GU Energy Labs while training for the event. Also making a record attempt was Dan Bryant (age 47), who fell just shy of his 45-49 age-group record by riding 47.458 kilometers (29.48 miles) in the Hour.

How far is Kevin’s new record of 49.121 kilometers? To give some sense of the effort, imagine riding from downtown Los Angeles to Anaheim on a bike... and then riding a few laps around Disneyland for good measure. Then imagine doing all that in an hour. And while Kevin did not have to reckon with SoCal traffic, his record is just shy of the mark set by Eddie Merckx, the five-time Tour de France champion in 1972. Technological innovations have given riders new advantages on the track, but bear in mind that Kevin has a full-time job and a family. This is something he trains for in his “spare” time.

Dan Bryant (age 47) fell just shy of his 45-49 age-group record by riding 47.458 kilometers (29.48 miles) in the Hour. Photo by Craig Huffman Photography

Unfathomable Detail

On its face The Hour is a simple task: a rider and bike, pedaling as far as possible in 60 minutes. But this race began well before the cyclists rolled off their starting blocks. Preparation began months in advance. With support from GU, the team created a data-driven nutrition plan that would enable their best attempts on the record. Beginning in the spring, both Dan and Kevin underwent two rounds of metabolic testing and body scans. Their nutrition was optimized to balance beneficial dietary changes with the time constraints of work and family. The riders kept a pulse on their bodies through biomarker data provided by Inside Tracker, which allowed tweaks to nutrition and training. Furthermore, the team made age-specific dietary changes, confronting fueling and hydration challenges specific to masters athletes.

“The level of detail we went into is almost unfathomable,” said Chris Ott, a teammate on Peet’s Coffee who helped manage the record attempts. “The Hour Record is literally a maximum effort for a rider. So we worked hard to get the logistics, aerodynamics, gear, and fitness factors completely dialed in.” BMC provided prototype time-trial bikes, which were tuned for ideal set-up and gear ratios. Pearl Izumi provided skin suits to make the riders’ bodies more aerodynamic. The team paid for its own anti-doping drug testing. They also flew in a UCI commissar from Colorado to verify the event.

Kevin Metcalfe shattered the Hour World Record for his age group. In 60 minutes time, the 55-year-old cyclist pedaled 49.121 kilometers (30.52 miles). Photo by Craig Huffman Photography

The team picked the Aguascalientes velodrome in central Mexico for the record attempt because the venue is at altitude and has controlled indoor conditions. Despite the physiological effects of lower oxygen, the thinner atmosphere has lower resistance, enabling riders to slice more easily through the air. Even the start time for the record attempts was optimized. “We waited for perfect window during the day to get the optimum temperature, which ensured the least air resistance,” said Ott.

Detailed adjustments included pre-race fueling. Food and hydration is not allowed during Hour record attempts. So Dan and Kevin took light-meals on race day and bottles of BCAA-infused Roctane Energy Mix. They also used an experimental “pre-load mix,” currently in development at GU Energy Labs, which, among other ingredients, features a novel blend of amino acids and minerals. Both took a small, carbohydrate-rich snack to top off their energy stores in the moments leading up to the record attempt. Kevin noted, “After warming up on the rollers, I knocked down a GU Energy Gel with about five or ten minutes before I rolled off.”

60 Minutes of Maximum Effort

Even with this meticulous preparation, extreme effort was needed out on the track. Although the baseline of a velodrome race track is flat, riders must constantly modulate their effort to maintain a set speed on the banked curves. As Dan and Kevin entered the steep corners of the track, which sloped up a 45-degree grade, their center of gravity took a shorter path around the track, forcing the wheels outward. Both riders increased their cadence to carry their momentum through the turns and floated the straightaways. “Getting my line right around the track was a big focus,” recalled Kevin. “Each lap I was working to get the corners right: don’t go too wide, don’t go too narrow.”

With speeds approaching 30mph, the riders flew around the velodrome. “Honestly, riding that hard on a velodrome is fun!” said Dan. “One of the things I didn’t anticipate was the G-Force on the turns. My core muscles were sore from keeping myself upright.” Both riders rode nearly 200 laps around the 250-meter track. To get feedback, the cyclists relied upon an automated time system. A sensor on the track interfaced to a laptop computer, which calculated each lap split, which was displayed on an iPad next to the track. Every five minutes, the riders were updated about their average speed, which gave them a sense of their pace relative to the existing world record.

“I was well under world-record pace for 35 minutes,” notes Kevin. But as he entered the last twenty minutes of riding, his split times creeped upwards. As his speed began to lag, he avoided panic. “One of the key pieces of advice that I got before the race was to ‘roll with the effort, roll with the sensation that you are fading.’ The idea is you will waste more energy overcorrecting and you’ll cause more damage by trying to rally.”

Kevin’s speed cushion, however, was more than enough to shatter the existing record. He sped past the existing record mark to cheers from spectators and officials. Over the last few minutes, he continued to stamp the pedals to put as much distance as possible into the record. His new mark will be a lofty challenge for future Hour attempts.  

Riders used an electronic stand that automatically relases when the timer starts.

Two Days, Two World Records

The following afternoon, neither rider was satisfied with the previous day’s effort. Kevin took to the boards again, breaking the record for the 2-kilometer Individual Pursuit. For non-cyclists, this race is comparable to an 800-meter run on a track: somewhere between a long sprint and a “short” distance race. Digging to the line over the last couple laps, Kevin’s time of 2 minutes and 18.052 seconds broke the existing record by a second. “Honestly, there’s not much to say about the effort,” Kevin shrugged. “It really hurt a lot.”

For his part, Dan refused to leave Mexico without taking another shot at his age-group world record. Despite the fatigue of the previous day’s effort, he rolled off for another attempt. Unfortunately, he again fell short. “I struggled a bit breathing at altitude,” conceded Dan. “The legs were there, but after fifteen minutes I just couldn’t get enough air in.” But as the current Master’s World Time Trial Champion, there’s no doubt that Dan will be back racing in the saddle soon. Indeed, both Dan and Kevin are gearing up for the Master’s World Championships on August 27th to represent the USA in Albi, France.

And we can’t wait to see what else these athletes can do on a bike.

Resources

  • Videos of the record attempts are online at the World Hour Record Facebook page.
  • Kevin Metcalf’s personal account of World Hour Record is posted on his website.
  • Gearheads can can dive into the anatomy of Kevin’s record in this Slowtwitch article, which reviews Kevin’s bike set-up and gearing choices.

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