Review – The Hour: Sporting Immortality The Hard Way

 

The Hour

Sporting Immortality The Hard Way
by Michael Hutchinson

 

TheHour-MichaelHutchinsonCyclingShortsReviewThere’s an attractive simplicity to the hour record – one man, one bike, sixty minutes, away you go. As tests of human endeavour go, it couldn’t be simpler, but Michael Hutchinson’s account of his attempt is a long, long way from being an anodyne account of a simple record bid. Part autobiography, part history, part non-fiction drama, it wears a great many hats and (not unlike the author) covers a lot of ground in a very short space of time – it covers his own life story, of course, but also hosts a vast array of anecdotes concerning cycling past and present, road racing, time trialling, training, drugs (inevitably) and the hour record itself. So it’s for anyone with an interest in cycling, because it casts the net far and wide.

But I suspect that it might also be a good book for anyone not that interested in cycling, because Hutchinson is a great writer. Self-deprecating and wonderfully dry of humour, he wanders seemingly aimless across the landscape of cycling, touching on a historic fact here, a biographical note there but always linking the narrative together seamlessly and at an easy pace. As the book continues, the spotlight focuses more and more upon his own attempt at the record, and the result is a fantastic portrayal of the almost claustrophobic build-up of stress and intensity.

I won’t spoil the ending, but Hutchinson is well qualified to have a tilt at it – with over fifty national time trial titles to his credit, not to mention three British Time Trial Championships, a brace of Irish Time Trial Championships, a British pursuit crown, and let’s not forget his victories in the Brompton World Championships (a title which the UCI seem strangely to have yet to award a rainbow jersey for), he’s as successful as any domestic male cyclist has been. But he’s also a PhD, and a successful writer, Cycling Weekly columnist Dr Hutch and author of a book on sailing – this is a man with many strings to his bow. However, there’s no ego out of control here – his ability at time trials is, he freely admits, a simple quirk of genetics, and even discovering cycling was an accident; otherwise he’d likely be a frustrated academic to this very day. Moreover, sometimes cringingly self-aware, he has no problem with – indeed, almost rejoices in – poking fun at himself.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that it’s too short; not in terms of value for money, because at a retail price of nine quid in paperback it’s pretty good on that score – I just wish there was more to it than the 288 pages, because he’s never dull, never lingers long on any one topic. As a result it’s an easy-going page-turner that takes you on a compelling journey that’ll have you laughing out loud and gnashing your teeth, sometimes at the same time. In turns both very funny and painfully honest, The Hour just might be the most entertaining book on cycling I’ve ever read.

CyclingShortsRating-TheHour

 

Title:
The Hour – Sporting Immortality The Hard Way  

Author: Michael Hutchinson    

Published by Yellow Jersey Press

Available in Paperback & eBook

Price:
RRP £8.99 (Paperback), RRP £8.99 (eBook)

 

The Physiology of Pro Cyclists – Massive Lungs

As an asthma sufferer, albeit one who hasn’t had many problems in the last 8 years or so, I recently had a routine check up at the local GP practice. Taking a peak expiratory flow test, I recorded a breath volume – essentially a derivative of lung capacity – about 1/3 below that of the average 18 year old of my height.

A peak expiratory flow (PEF) test is undertaken on a peak flow meter, with a sliding dial which moves further up the measurement tab the harder you blow. I remember from reading It’s Not About the Bike that Lance Armstrong went off the scale in a PEF test, blowing the dial to the very end of the meter despite having just finished his first session of chemo. Now I know what you’re all thinking, but however you look at it and whatever you think of the guy, Lance’s athletic credentials can’t be disputed. For reference, I got the dial up to about halfway.

Lance is by no means the only cyclist with extraordinary lungs. Miguel Indurain, for example, had a lung capacity measuring 8 litres, which is 30% larger than that of the average man. 30%! Larger lungs means you can simply breathe in more oxygen. More oxygen means more oxygenated blood, which in turn means more red blood cells. More red blood cells means a higher aerobic threshold. Any cyclist with a basic knowledge of a ramp test or a time trial knows what this means. Simply, you can ride faster for longer. Other methods of obtaining more red blood cells include altitude training, or taking performance enhancing drugs such as the red blood cell booster EPO, showing the natural advantage possessed by riders with enormous lungs. It’s hardly surprising that Big Mig was such a dominant rider.

This suggests that in the same way as Usain Bolt has an incredibly rich supply of fast twitch muscle fibres and Jenson Button has reaction and reflex times dwarfing those of standard people, the best cyclists are physiologically perfectly matched to the sport we love. The one downside to this discovery is that I now realise that my poor lung capacity renders me as unsuited to flying up mountains with Froome & co. as Dawn French is physically unsuited to the High Jump. Okay, maybe not quite that unsuited, but the point still stands. Whilst it is impossible to ignore that dedication and application are of fundamental importance in obtaining athletic success, that genetics play a massive part in selecting our sporting champions is also undisputable.

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