Steve McCaw breaks VTTA hour record

Steve McCaw has set a new VTTA outdoor hour record of 42.822km. That’s a UK-wide vets’ hour record- congratulations. This was set on Tuesday 9th August at a blustery Meadowbank Velodrome, breaking the previous outdoor age group record of 40.86km or 25.4 miles. Most readers will be familiar with the hour record, which holds something of a legendary or mythical status in the world of cycling. I spoke to Steve to find out more about this achievement.

Image Allister Watson

First, Steve gave me a bit of background on his cycling career:

I won my first ever time trial aged 15 and I was third in my first ever road race in a sprint finish a few weeks later so the die was pretty much cast then, “has good aerobic capacity but not much of a gallop!” I’ve won The Scottish 25tt and 50TT and ridden small stage races as well as a lot of different track events. I took to the track right away but have always tried to keep variety by riding road and TT too.

Steve had twice held a Scottish hour record as a junior:

I broke the Scottish hour record when I was still a junior in 1980 with 42km. I was the scottish junior TT champion that year and had used a track bike to set a number of junior TT records so having to spin a small fixed gear when riding TT’s was good practise for the track. After that I was selected for the British track Team squad and rode the Junior World track champs for GB. In 1982 I had another go at the Scottish hour record and raised it to 45km, and although that mark has been passed now it’s still the furthest ridden on traditional equipment of spoked wheels and dropped handlebars.

1980 – 1Hour- Steve McCaw Scotia Sports/Dales Cycles – 26 miles 98yds
1982 – 1hour- Steve McCaw Roiseal crt – 27miles 1681 yds

During the big freeze of last winter, Steve was inspired by Youtube footage of the top riders of the past attacking the one hour track record: Merckx, Ritter, Boardman and Obree. After discovering that there was a British age group hour record he hatched a plan to make an attempt on it. Anyone familiar with the Obree and Boardman records of the 90s would be aware of the huge physical cost of attempting the hour, and Steve knew how tough this was from his junior days, so I put it to him: why plan to put yourself through that again?

For me it was about a fresh challenge that I had some knowledge of from years ago and the record was due a bit of updating, being from 1999. Someone will do the same to my record some day, and to be honest it’s not as good a record as it should be, the wind was just too strong for that. I’ve always ridden Road, Track and TT’s , they all have something different to offer, this year was just a slight variation as it was a Track TT! At the end of the attempt Allister Watson reminded me that back in 1982 I said I would never do that again, it’s just as well i’d forgotten how much it hurts.

Image David Martin

The hour record was to be Steve’s focus for the second half of the year, and the build-up took in the British masters track championships, followed by weekly track sessions and hard club rides with the West Lothian Clarion.

I’d been training for the British masters pursuit which was 3rd July and 3000m, and needed a lot of 30 sec efforts, so [after July] I needed to concentrate on more aerobic work for the hour, 2 hour rides, threshold efforts of 20-40 mins. I kept my hand in at the track once a week if it didn’t rain!

As Steve mentioned, the weather is a major factor, and with the Meadowbank velodrome Edinburgh being open-air, any attempt is at the mercy of the skies. The strategy was to make the attempt in the evening when the wind was dropping.

Wind is a factor on this outdoor track

David Martin of The Bicycle Works, who was in attendance, described the conditions: It was pretty windy, the usual Meadowbank back straight headwind, and far from ideal for setting records. It was also not particularly warm, which also doesn’t help. And the wind was causing the usual nervous gear choice decisions.

A cold and blustery night. Image Allister Watson

Getting all the officials in place to make the attempt is a challenge in itself- Steve was aided by Tom Beattie of WLC, dealing with the red tape and beauraucracy on his behalf. Something I’m sure other Scottish hour record holders could sympathise with. The record attempt was made on a Tuesday night, after Meadowbank track league, as timekeepers and officials would be there anyway.

Hoy sr in the booth- officials are an integral part of any record attempt

With logistics being almost as much of a challenge as training, Steve tried and failed to book the track for Tuesday 2nd of August but was short of one track timekeeper. On that day, the wind had dropped completely and it was warm compared to most days this summer – ideal conditions but it was not to be. This left Steve with a balancing act – the need to hold his form and keep the legs sharp, while remaining fresh in case an attempt at short notice was necessary. Then another possible attempt was mooted for Friday 5th- but as Steve tapered off it was cancelled due to the track officials’ workload for the upcoming Scottish championships.

Finally on Tuesday 9th August after the track league meeting Steve was able to make his attempt. His account of the record says it all- pacing and pain management being the major themes. I will let his words speaks for themselves:

I set off at around 8.45 on my one hour attempt. I also planned to try and break the 5 10 and 20km records as well as the 5 10 and 25 mile records. I started out quite fast, but this was needed to achieve the shorter track records, so I settled down into a rhythm of around 100rpm. I was getting good time checks from my support team of seconds up or down as well as a speed read out from a computer program. Initially my speed was around 43.9km but i felt i could not hold that so backed off a bit. The wind was really difficult in the back straight but at least on a small track (250m) the straights are short.

I could hear the commentator saying i had broken one of the short records so knew things were going not too badly so pressed on. After around 25 minutes I was breathing pretty hard and knew that the second half was going to hurt, the speed was still around 43.5 km/h so all going to plan. Fortunately at this point the wind started to drop a bit so I was able maintain a more even pace as it wasn’t so fast/slow depending on the headwind/tailwind sections.

Image David Martin

Finally i get the sign of 30 mins so i know I’m half way but this is really starting to hurt, way worse than a time trial as you have to constantly steer the bends and resist the 1.7g thrust of the banking at the same time. Everything hurts, my back, my arms and shoulders oh and the legs are in the mix too but I just keep trying to steer the bends and relax in the tailwind. 40 mins – speed drops to 43.3km now but I can’t do anything about it, just have to keep the pedals turning and focus on the bends. Sweat is pouring down my face and into my eyes now making it difficult to see and my shoulders and arms are numb making it hard to steer – this is the worst part now as I just want to stop but know i can do the hour record – the signs from the board say that so no choice just do what I can.

10 mins to go and speed is 43.1km , I can’t lift the speed now, I’m just trying to control the drop off in pace to a minimum and not hit one of the sandbags which could be a disaster, briefly i wonder about a puncture but put the thought out of my mind. People start cheering me on from the trackside, I think they can tell I’m in trouble but I’ve got nothing left to give, I just know I need to make the end now. At last I see three minutes and 43.0km, so try a last effort although it’s dark and steering the bends has become almost impossible and the straights are not much fun either and finally the bell, 21 seconds of effort and a pistol shot indicates it’s all over. A few laps of slowing down and I collapse on the grass by the trackside. 42.8km or 26.6 miles in old money.

After the attempt- it would have been almost 10pm when you got off the bike- how do you come back down to earth after that?

Yes, getting to sleep was a problem, I had to eat something and try and get hydrated again, moving about anywhere took three times as long as normal as I had cramps in so many muscles. Once I got home I just surfed the ‘net for a bit and had a glass of wine to try and help me feel sleepy.

Lastly- you mentioned the European indoor vets record- one month after beating the British VTTA benchmark, are you still up for this one?

Not this year, but perhaps in the future on the new Chris Hoy Velodrome?

171 laps in 60 mins, 21.05 seconds per lap or 42.822kmkm/h average

Frame: £300 planet-x alu frame, hand painted before applying Wheelroom decals.
Wheels: Hed tri-spoke front and Pro rear disc.
Handlebars: Tula.


Thanks to:
Steve McCaw, check out his handbuilt wheels: The Wheel Room
Allister Watson, track City of Edinburgh Racing Club stalwart, for photos
David Martin, of The Bicycle Works, for photos and info