Can Bradley Wiggins do it? Welcome to the Thunder Drome

Author and artwork: Patrick Rhodes

Many have tried. Most have failed.

Bradley Wiggins knows this. He also knows the ordeal he faces, knows the pain he will endure and knows the scrutiny he will face. It’s nothing he hasn’t experienced before, having raced and won the world’s most prestigious cycling event: the Tour de France. This is a different animal, however. The demands placed upon his body will be much different than any road race in which he has competed. He will exert max effort under controlled conditions for exactly one hour after which, the distance he’s covered will be measured.

There will be no other riders to chase nor any to attack. There will be no feed stations nor assistance of any kind. He will pedal within himself, in his own head, or as he calls it: his “escape” zone.

Welcome to the Thunder “drome”, Sir Bradley Wiggins. Welcome to the World Hour Record.

Rising Track Star

Born into a cycling family, Bradley Wiggins’ appetite for racing came naturally to him. His father, Gary, was an Australian national track champion in the 1 km time trial as well as the 4000m team pursuit. Like so many other aspiring cyclists have done, his father would later move to cycling-hotbed Belgium to race professionally. It was there where young Bradley was born and it was there that, at less than 2 years of age, his father would walk out on him and his mother.

“My father, Gary, was a hard-drinking Australian bike racer who had come over to Belgium to make a living competing on the track circuit there. I wasn’t even two years old when he left – and he didn’t so much walk out on us at Christmas 1982 as throw us out.” – Bradley Wiggins, My Story.

His mother then moved the family to London where he would grow up. Whether he was influenced by the local cycling scene or his father’s stories, young Bradley would begin racing at the tender age of 12. Like his father, he started his career on the track. And, like his father, he would become a national (junior) champion in the 1 km time trial. Possessing an unnatural drive seldom seen in one so young, he morphed into a beast on the track circuit, winning several national races by the time he was 18.

Bradley Wiggins is known for his deep love of all things British, especially that from the 1960s. He sports a Beatle-esque haircut and long sideburns which have become something of a trademark.

By age 21, Wiggins was signed to his first professional team. During the early to mid-2000s, he continued to focus on track cycling, winning numerous medals and titles along the way, including several gold medals over the span of three Olympic games (2000 in Sydney, 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing).

Figure 1 

During his track years, Wiggins had also competed in a few road races, but mostly as a time trial specialist. After winning two golds at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he had had his fill of track cycling and wanted to focus exclusively on road racing.

“My only goal for the previous four years had been to win at the Olympics – and now I had two gold medals. With that in the bag, by the end of 2008, I’d had enough of track racing and now I wanted to compete hard on the road…” – Bradley Wiggins, My Story.

Conversion to Road Cycling

Many track riders have attempted to be competitive in road racing. Few have actually succeeded outside of time trials or serving as domestiques; this is very often due to being too heavy. There is a saying in various cycling circles: ‘light is right’. In order to be a successful ‘all-rounder’ on the road, you can’t carry around excess weight, even if that weight is in the form of muscle and especially if it’s on the upper body. That’s why you see so many cyclists with huge quads paired with pencil-like arms.

The Tour de France is the unquestioned preeminent event in all of road cycling.

In Wiggins’ case, he wanted to become a ‘General Classification’ (GC) rider in order to compete in stage races, specifically the Grand Tours. These types of races require great skill in climbing, time-trialing and also on the flats. In fact, the climbs in stage races such as the Tour de France (TdF) are often very long and quite steep, so it isn’t enough to be strong; one also must be light. Thus, Wiggins set about to lose as much body weight as possible whilst retaining strength in his legs. Over time, he managed to cut his weight from 82 kg to 71 kg which transformed him from an also-ran into a serious challenger.

Figure 2 

Initially, he just wanted to make the TdF selection to be able to work for the true climbers on the squad. Unexpectedly however, and very much due to his lighter frame, he rode extremely well and ended up taking fourth overall at the 2009 TdF – something he’d never imagined would happen.

“The Tour went almost perfectly – I never had a bad day, did better than everyone had expected in the mountains and finally rode into Paris having finished fourth, the best British performance since Robert Millar managed the same placing in 1984.” – Bradley Wiggins, My Story.

After a couple of years struggling with a team change and injuries, he wasn’t able to duplicate his 2009 TdF success. However, in 2012, he was fit and psychologically ready for the Tour. Not only was he very strong in the time trials having two of three TT stages, but he was good enough in the mountains to stay with the true mountain goats. In fact, he was so good in the mountains that he often gained time on his rivals on the steep climbs, the idea of which would have been laughable during his track days. Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France by a comfortable margin, accomplishing one of
the hardest feats in all of cycling.

He hasn’t ridden in the Tour since.

More injuries and an eroding lack of interest in road racing insured that Wiggins wouldn’t be seen in a Grand Tour again*. Like has happened to many, he wanted to return to his roots. That meant a return to the track and an environment in which he had once felt very comfortable.

*As of June 2015, this is still accurate.

New Horizons

Bradley Wiggins publicly stated that his goal was to race the team pursuit in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Riding at his threshold for long periods of time is what really turns him on, so it’s fitting that he’s closing out his career on the track. Additionally, he can gain a little weight which will actually help him here. In support of that goal, he’s raced several time trials and only a handful of road races.

There is one record however, if he can accomplish it, would not only cement his name into the record books as one of the best cyclists of all time, but also aid in his Olympic preparation.

It’s called the World Hour Record (WHR) and is perhaps the hardest single hour in all of cycling.Figure 3 

At the WHR, he will ride on a track, very similar to the ones he’s raced on for most of his career. He will have to pedal as hard as he can for exactly one hour without pushing so hard that over-extends himself and loses speed. There will be thousands of fans screaming, but he won’t hear them. His mouth will feel like glue as he won’t be allowed any water or food during the attempt. He will be so deep into the ‘pain cave’ that every single ounce of his attention will be conscripted into managing the task at hand.

Although the ‘official’ record for the World Hour Record has been set at 52.937 km by Britain’s Alex Dowsett, it is not the longest distance. Before the bikes were somewhat standardized, cyclists would compete in the event with all sorts of contraptions. In 1996, Chris Boardman set the longest distance at 56.375 km, using ‘superman’ handlebars, a monocoque frame and other aerodynamic implements.

Bradley Wiggins will be back where he belongs: on the track attempting to go faster than any human has ever gone before. On June 7, 2015 at Lee Valley VeloPark in London, he will make his attempt.


Can he do it? History tells us that he certainly can. He’s got the power to average 53 kph (or more) for an hour and that’s the minimum speed he’ll have to maintain to set the record. Additionally, British riders have done very well at this event, setting the record several times over the past hundred years whilst also currently holding the existing record (Alex Dowsett, May 2, 2015).If he does it, what next? He’s conquered just about everything in cycling at which he’s taken aim. In 2015 he even formed his own team: Team Wiggins. Perhaps after the Olympics he’ll decide it’s time to mentor the next generation of cyclists. Whatever his future plans, expect to see Bradley Wiggins set a new World Hour Record.