On Friday, 54-year-old Norman Alvis set a world masters hour record of 49.392km at the indoor velodrome in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Instead of using a wind tunnel to dial in his position, Alvis, a former Tour de France professional, used his iPhone to film himself riding on rollers in his garage.
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It was his second attempt this year, and a comeback of sorts from his time as a professional — Alvis, who went to the Olympics in the team time trial, held the US hour record of 51.505km from 1997 until Tom Zirbel beat that with 53.037km in 2016.
Hour record attempts have seen a resurgence in recent years after popular then-pro rider Jens Voigt set a new record (51.110km) in 2014, followed by records by Matthias Brändle, Rohan Dennis, Alex Dowsett and, finally, Bradley Wiggins, who set the current world record of 54.526km in London in 2015.
In US amateur racing, 'masters' denotes age-group competition, and Alvis' time was good enough for not only his 50+ age group but the 40+ and 30+ age groups as well.
"I’ll bet Wiggins is kicking himself for riding in the pro category instead of 30-34 when he had the chance," Alvis joked afterward.
Evelyn Stevens set the current women's world hour record of 47.980km at the same Colorado Springs track in 2016.
Alvis raced professionally from 1989 to 1998 for 7-Eleven, Motorola and Saturn. He competed in the 1990 Tour de France, and the 1990, 1992 and 1993 Giro d'Italia. He won the US national road race in 1995.
"The experience helps heaps," Alvis said of his background's effect on his hour record as a 54-year-old. "A smooth pedal stroke and the ability to relax more at effort are probably the biggest factors."
"Knowing seemingly small items that have an impact comes from years of trying to find performance improvement," he said. "An example is riding rollers in the TT position so I’m solidly on the black line throughout my ride."
Preparation and last-minute chaos
Alvis trained 8 to 10 hours a week for the 90 days leading into his record attempts. His first attempt in June 2017 resulted in 48.112km — good enough for a new US masters hour record but still about 800m short of Pascal Montier’s then-record 48.892 km.
"I dutifully awoke most days at 4:30 to 5am so I could either ride my rollers in the garage or go to my local track. I varied my riding between a road bike and track bike as training was punctuated with local weekend criteriums," Alvis said. "My training indicated that even in my aero position I would be able to produce 300 to 320 watts for an hour. Dean Golich got me started and Tom Danielson put the training into high gear. They came up with some ugly workouts."
"Frankly, I felt a bit stupid in how I went about this but also a bit common sensical," he said. "I did not use a wind tunnel. I rode my rollers more than the track or the road and I set up my iPhone to record it. Then I made sure I had a static background to compare positions. Harvey Nitz (one of my heroes) always said rollers are a poor man's motor pacing. So I guess I'll say rollers and an iPhone are a poor man's wind tunnel."
On the day of the successful attempt, UCI officials told Alvis that he had to shorten his aero extensions by 5cm. He did so, but also removed his Garmin Edge computer and forgot to replace it before his time started.
As with any hour-record attempt, Alvis started from a dead start. He chose a 53t chainring and a 13t cog. Without a computer, Alvis couldn't pace himself with the power data coming from his Stages meter. Instead, he went on feel and the time splits that were being called out to him trackside.
"I'm looking forward to next year when I age up so I can try for the 55-59 category," Alvis said. "There are a few more efficiencies to be had so I think +50km is a real possibility."
Alvis' bike, clothing, shoe and helmet specs
- Frameset: Argon 18 Electron Pro
- Tubulars: Vittoria Pista EVO CL, 19mm front and 22mm rear, 180psi
- Disc wheels: Mavic Comet, front and rear
- Chain: UFO
- Cranks: Vision alloy track cranks, 170mm
- Chainring: Vision, 53t
- Cog: Dura-Ace, 13t
- Power meter: Stages
- Computer: Garmin - inadvertently left off for hour ride
- Handlebars: Zero Wake modular Argon 18 pursuit bars
- Pedals: Speedplay Aero
- Saddle: ISM 1.1
- Shoes: Giro SLX
- Socks: no Pinz
- Skinsuit: Specialized Evade
- Helmet: Giro Aerohead