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Claudio Imhof has just set a new Swiss National Hour Record, but don’t expect it to stand for long. The ambitious 29-year-old already knows he can beat it.
With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and a cancelled edition of a home Road Cycling World Championships, 2020 might not have materialised as Imhof had envisioned, but he’s looking at the positives and satisfied to end the year having set a new national record of 52.116km.
He laughs again, walking around his house to show us the skinsuit he wore for the record attempt in which he obliterated Marc Dubois’ previous distance of 48.337km set in 2017: “It was nerve-wracking walking out onto the track knowing that this ‘race’ had been organised just for me. But I know that you need to be nervous in order to compete at your best, so I really embraced it.
I’ve always raced on both the road and the track, ever since I was 16. The Hour Record didn’t feature much in my plans until now; it was just an off-hand topic that we’d bring up occasionally with Daniel Gisiger (Swiss Cycling’s head coach and former Record holder). Then after the disappointment of the Europeans in Plouay, Daniel asked me about the Hour Record again and the conversation picked up pace.”
This was two weeks before the record attempt. From that moment on, there was no going back. Swiss Cycling’s top coaches got involved. The publicity was produced. Imhof reduced his training volume to ensure he would turn up as fresh as possible to the Tissot Velodrome in Grenchen, Northern Switzerland. They held five specific training sessions to measure sustainable lap times, which helped Imhof and the team at Swiss Cycling to prepare what Imhof describes as a “fairly conservative” race plan.
And then it was time.
“I focused on the whistle each lap. It went every 17.4 seconds, just like we’d prepared. I was always consistently matching it, which was really motivating. Under the TT helmet you can’t hear much so I focused on how I was feeling rather than the time. Being ahead of the whistle was enough to alert me that I wasn’t cracking yet. After thirty minutes I started wondering when and how much it was going to hurt, but that sensation never came. After 45 minutes I was still able to accelerate, completing the final 10 minutes with sub-17 laps and the final two laps in 15.8 and 15.6. Looking back on it now with the help of analysis from Swiss Cycling’s sports scientists, we’re convinced I could’ve done more.”
For Swiss Cycling, the tall Imhof is an asset, capable of bringing endurance and speed to the boards in the form of the Omnium, Madison, and Team Pursuit. Away from the track, he’s the sort of rider that can light up a road race, one with an astuteness to make the right break—and hold it.
Had Imhof not been on the track that Friday night setting the new record of 52.116 km, he’d have been in Aigle/Martigny, preparing for the Mixed Team Time Trial at the Road World Championships on a course that was well-suited to strengths of the Swiss team. After a hopeful victory there, the largely self-coached Imhof would then be winding down before potentially moving to the WorldTour.
“I’ve been so committed to the Tokyo Olympics that it was difficult when they were postponed. I’m not someone that gives up on anything so I remain committed to that project for 2021, but I had originally planned to transition fully to the road after Tokyo, so I’ve now missed out on a few WorldTour offers. Earlier this year I was questioning whether I’d made the right decision to stick with Tokyo but I’ve so much support from the federation that I know I’ve made the right choice. I just love racing, whether it’s the track or the road.”
Fortunately for Imhof, there’s no shortage of racing opportunities for the National Team, and he’s looking ahead to the European Track Cycling Championships in November, then, when the time is right, another Hour Record.