Filippo Ganna’s long-awaited hour record attempt is finally upon us and there is much speculation as to what distance he could cover when he steps onto the boards of the Tissot Velodrome in Grenchen, Switzerland this Saturday night. Not since Merckx in 1972 has there been an hour record attempt that was so widely considered a foregone conclusion not only to break the UCI World Record, but to utterly destroy it. Arguably, since Merckx, there hasn’t been a driver more suited to really putting the hour record ‘on the shelf’, with one ride to finish all rides. So before we find out for sure, we decided to give ourselves one last bit of imagination and take a look if Ganna may break the hour record and make some guesses as to how much.
The perfect hour rider?
At 6’1″ and ~83kg with a phenomenal engine, Ganna has the physique and physiology to make him one of the best time trialists of his generation. A two-time world time trial champion, three-time national time trial champion and five-time time trial stage winner on the Grand Tour, Ganna puts that potential to good use on the road. It’s this time trial pedigree that has so many so excited about Ganna’s Hour.
But Ganna is not only a strong time trialist, he is also one of the best track drivers of his generation and the hour record is of course a track event. A track event that demands a deceptively large amount of skill for what at first appears to be just an hour of driving in circles. As an Olympic team pursuit champion, former world record holder and four-time individual pursuit world champion, Ganna has also ticked the Velodrome skill box well and truly.
Ganna also has watts to burn. He was rumored to be producing 607 watts for four minutes when he broke the aforementioned 4K individual pursuit in 2019. From the limited data available, we know he’s since produced around 550 watts for the eight-minute opening time trial at the 2021 Giro d’Italia, and 520 watts for the slightly longer 15-minute time trial at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. While none of these previous performances are as long or demanding as a full gas hour on the velodrome, it does give us a hint of the kind of power Ganna can generate.
In addition, Ganna has already completed a 35-minute test at an alleged average speed of 56.1 km/h, half a kilometer further than the current record. Everything indicates that Ganna is on track to produce a truly remarkable ride. However, the only certainty about the hour record is that there are no certainties.
head to head
At least until tomorrow, Ganna is still just a hopeful contender. Dan Bigham is the current hour record holder, having set a new best of 55.548km on August 19th. Before anything else, Ganna simply needs to break 55,548 first. This is the challenge all Hour Record contenders must juggle, trying their absolute best at the risk of losing everything, or taking a more conservative approach that focuses primarily on just setting a new record. However, even a so-called conservative approach requires the best distance from any human since Chris Boardman’s scrapped “Best Human Effort” hour record of 56.375 km in 1996, set with the now-banned “Superman position.” Ganna herself has said the realistic target is 1 meter further than Bigham’s current record.
However, Ganna’s attempt is unlike any other as he has the current record holder in his camp. Bigham is employed as a performance engineer at Ineos and has been tasked with giving Ganna the best chance of breaking the record. In fact, Bigham’s hour record, phenomenal as it was, was also the final bit in a plan by the Ineos Grenadiers for Ganna’s attempt to end all attempts.
Had Ganna challenged Victor Campenaert’s previous record of 55.089km, we might have watched a head-to-head World Tour time trial between the two World Tour riders. Unfortunately, there is only one such data point on the road between Bigham and Ganna, and that is the 2021 World Time Trial Championships, where Ganna took the win and beat Bigham in 16th place, 2:11. Looking at the individual pursuit at the track the results are closer, but it’s still Ganna who has the edge in February 2020 with a PB of 4-01.934 versus Bigham’s 4-05.274.
However, these times tell only a small part of the story. As Bigham explained on a recent episode of the Nerd Alert podcast, he completed up to 95% of his training this year on the time trial bike, perfecting his aerodynamic position and ability to maintain that position. Ganna, on the other hand, has had a road season including a Tour de France and a trip to Australia to complete the last few road world championships, so will inevitably sacrifice some hour-record specific training.
Still, Ganna will have all the attention to detail, experience and understanding he has gleaned from Bigham’s attempt to make up his track time deficit. Ganna will have the same Pinarello Bolide F 3D, Princeton Carbon Works dual disc wheel setup, BioRacer skinsuit, Wattshop and MucOff drivetrain and Kask Bigham helmet that was so successfully ‘tested’.
It’s not a certainty
All that support doesn’t make Ganna’s Hour a foregone conclusion. Almost every driver, except Bigham, who has attempted to set the hour record has described it as a form of torture, life-ending agony. Ganna himself, who has never completed a full ‘hour’, said today: ‘I might get to 36 minutes and I want to die.’ Bigham, on the other hand, completed six separate 60-minute sham rides before his world record ride, including a British record ride in October 2021. This experience will no doubt have been instrumental in Bigham’s successful ride. Ganna will certainly lose some nerve as he heads into his first full lesson with the eyes of the world on every pedal stroke.
Additionally, while every bit of gear and clothing that has proven so successful for Bigham, Ganna also has more drag to overcome as a taller rider with a slightly less aerodynamic position. Bigham’s CdA was listed as an incredible 0.15. Gannas is estimated to be around 0.18 to 0.20. Ganna has more power than Bigham, but he will also need more power just to be that fast.
While aerodynamics is partly rocket science, it sometimes helps to look at aerodynamics in watts/CdA, much like we compare climbers in watts/kg. Smaller riders require less strength to climb hills at the same speed because they weigh less. Ganna’s CdA is higher, so he needs more power to reach the same speed. According to our calculations, had Bigham had the same CdA of 0.18 his distance might have dropped to 52.3km for the same rumored 350 watts, while at a CdA of 0.20 his distance would have dropped to 50.5km. However, Bigham has the ability and know-how to contort himself into this phenomenal position and as such he was able to achieve the 0.15 CdA that many would have thought impossible under current UCI regulations.
If we apply the same calculations and assume CdA for Ganna and factor in the less than perfect weather conditions for Grenchen tomorrow evening, the required performance numbers skyrocket. To take on Bigham and with a CdA of 0.20, Ganna needs somewhere in the region of 470 watts, a number that even the big man himself would surely shy away from. Lowering that CdA to 0.18 drops the required power to a much more manageable, by Ganna standards, at just 425 watts. While 425 watts is more than doable for Ganna, it’s by no means certain how many watts he can transfer to the boards on the streets. Many riders will experience a drop in performance of up to 10% in the velodrome.
Every attempt is at the mercy of the weather gods. Just ask Bradley Wiggins, who might still hold the world record if atmospheric pressure in London hadn’t risen near a ten-year high on the day of his attempt in 2015. In his pre-trial press conference on Friday, Ganna mentioned that he is targeting 15.8 -second laps in his 35-minute test earlier this week. While we don’t know the exact conditions during this test, given the current forecast and all of the assumptions above, Ganna would theoretically need 458 watts to achieve those lap times of 15.8 seconds at 0.18 CdA. Again, 460 is probably doable for Ganna on the road, but on the track, in an aero position, for an hour without a break, and with the forces each lean angle puts on his aching body, it’s less safe .
Ganna is believed to be planning a negative split-pacing strategy, similar to Bigham’s, and it’s not clear at what point in the ride he would hit those 15.8-second lap times, but such times certainly would suggesting he doesn’t plan to do so He only broke Chris Boardman’s “best human effort” but also hit the 57km mark, which has never been seen before. Bigham described Boardman’s 56.375km as “achievable when asked what would be possible for a theoretically perfect 450-watt rider” before declaring that 57km “is a big, big goal”.
Aside from Watt and CdA for a second, Ganna suggested in today’s press conference that he would be riding a 66 x 14 gearing and aiming for a 96rpm cadence. From there, with some good old-fashioned math, we can calculate that he wants to go over 35 mph.
However, it is believed that Ganna is not in perfect form. His World Time Trial Championships didn’t go according to plan, and that was because he had postponed his hour record attempt, originally scheduled for late August. The superstar was believed to be suffering from fatigue from his first Tour de France. Was Ganna’s underperforming at the World Championships due to his focus on the hour record? only time can tell. Thankfully, that time is almost over.
What are we thinking? With all of this in mind, we think that if Filippo Ganna lines up for a record attempt now, he’ll be confident of beating him. After all, he’s postponed an attempt before when he thought he wasn’t ready. However, given Ganna’s phenomenal talent and seemingly perfect fit for this effort, predicting he’ll just break it doesn’t seem like a particularly dangerous bet.
We all want to know how far Ganna can go. At the risk of looking like an idiot, I predict that Ganna will break Boardman’s best human effort, but will ultimately finish the “hour” just under the 57k mark.
The Grenchen Velodrome in Switzerland will host Ganna’s hour record attempt on Saturday 8 October at 20:00 CET. The ride will be broadcast live on GCN, Discovery and Eurosport, with the pre-ride show starting at 19:45 CET (18:45 BST / 10:45 PT / 13:45 ET).