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Mike Woods on Dombrowski’s Uphill Hour Record

by Ben Andrews

December 23, 2016 (Girona, Spain) – Last week, Cannondale-Drapac’s Joe Dombrowski was in the news about his new idea – an uphill hour record. Dombrowski, a climber who is often at the head of World Tour races when the road turns up, thinks that time trialists shouldn’t be the only riders with their own record.

Michael Woods  ©  Cannondale-Drapac

Traditionally, the hour record is conducted on an Olympic sized velodrome, within an enclosed environment, on a regulated fixed gear bicycle. It is simple: ride as far as you can in one hour. What Dombrowski proposes is far less conventional. He wants riders to take into account a number of factors, including climb length, gradient and wind while making an attempt.

Michael Woods (l) and Miguel Angel Lopez in the 97th Milan-Torino race  ©  Cannondale-Drapac

The effort would be measured in VAM, or the vertical meters gains per hour of climbing. This would standardize the effort across different climbs, and it would be up to riders to find the right formula of conditions to get the best possible VAM score in one hour.

Joe Dombrowski  ©  Cor Vos
Pedal Magazine caught up with Dombrowski’s teammate and Canadian climbing star, Mike Woods, at the team’s camp in Girona, Spain, to see what he had to say about this new idea.

Have you talked to Joe about the concept of an Uphill Hour Record?
Mike Woods: Yes… after you asked me to do an interview about the uphill record I brought it up with him at dinner as we are at team camp right now. Joe is a super interesting guy and a great conversationalist.  The way he presented the idea, it sounds pretty cool.

You have gone after climbing records before, most notably the climb up Haleakala. Would this be something you would consider pursuing?
MW: For sure. I love racing other guys far more than racing the clock, but I always enjoy the challenge of trying to ride up a mountain, especially full gas.

Mike Woods on the Haleakala Climb in Hawaii  ©  Drew Beeson

Joe is talking about gauging the effort using VAM on climbs such as Stelvio or Tenerife. Due to obvious limitations, the effort would be done outside, and subject to the elements. Do you have a climb you think would be good for this record?
MW: We talked a bit about this at dinner. Having something that starts right on the coast, or even below sea level (so that you minimize the amount of rarified air that you have to deal with late in the ride) is important. Also a climb with a relatively consistent grade, that you can stay efficient on, would be crucial.  I figured something like 7%.  Although Stelvio doesn’t start at sea level, I think the grade and consistency would be pretty solid for the attempt. Ultimately the wind is going to be one of the biggest factors for the climb; so if you could find a spot where the wind is a consistent and strong tail wind, you will do some serious damage.

Stelvio on Strava  ©

The traditional Hour Record is one for the big engines. Do you think there should be something like an uphill hour record to showcase the prowess of the best climbers in the world?
MW: Why not? I mean it is an interesting concept, it is a competition, and it is intriguing. The only knock I have on the idea is using VAM as a measurement. To a non-cycling fan, the concept of the hour record can easily be explained – how far you can go in an hour. When I tell somebody that Bradley Wiggins did 54.5km in an hour, they can understand that. If I told a non-cyclist that my VAM score for a certain climb was XXXX, they would have no clue what I was talking about. This being said, a VAM score as a metric would be far more accessible to the average rider than an hour record on the track. I have only ridden on a track once, and the average recreational cyclist will likely never touch the thing. However all you have to do is take your bike on to see how you stack up against the best; which I think would be cool. Regardless, I like the idea, and would love to take part in the challenge, although I would likely get dusted by Joe!

Dombrowski seems to be on to something and perhaps we will see a record like this developed in the near future. With the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)’s ongoing regulations on equipment and competitions it’s hard to know the final shape of a such a record attempt, but it is riders like Dombrowski and Woods who are adding fresh legs, and fresh ideas to the sport, that keeps it moving forward.

To read Dombrowski’s interview in VeloNews click here.

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