Posted by: davesnewadventure | October 10, 2007

The One You Least Suspect: A View of Chris Hoy´s Record Attempt in La Paz, Bolivia

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Dave´s New Adventure, Adventures from the South American Continent 5/2007

The One You Least Suspect: A View of Chris Hoy´s Record Attempt in La Paz,

La Paz, Bolivia

The high tech, advanced technology, carbon framed monocoque sliced through the air, and a loud roar echoed through the velodrome. Amazingly, the high tech frame was a fixed gear bicycle, the most ancient of machines from the 18th century. A muscular, pale man clad in white tights, the kind that only Olympic champions were allowed to use, accelerated the bike to over 60 kilometers per hour, and zoomed three times around the track. On the third round, a tall man from Holland, the president of the world federation of cyclists, rang a bell, signaling the last round. When the athlete zoomed past the infrared cross line, and started to slow down, the glowing numbers signaled his time. 59 seconds and 103 milliseconds. He was short 228 milliseconds of the world record, from 0 to one kilometer, in the world´s highest velodrome, Alto Irpavi, in the snow capped peaks of the Andes. The bolivian crowd murmured, and the announcer, the president of the La Paz federation of cyclists, announced the athlete´s failure to break the record, set by a Frenchman, Arnaud Torant, on 10 October 2001, of 58 seconds, and 875th of a second. The athlete, Chris Hoy, cycled up to the clock, read his time, and then cycled half way around the track before fainting on the grass.

At 3417 meters above sea level, the Alto Irpavi velodrome is considered the best place in the world to set land speed bicycle records. It´s thin air offers little resistance, and the velodrome is built according to international standards. However, it´s height above sea level is also it´s greatest challenge. La Paz is the highest capital city in the world, at 3600 meters into the rarefied air. Typically, residents, travelers, and others give themselves three days for their bodies to adapt and adjust to the altitude. After three days, the body increases the red blood cell count to help absorb more oxygen from the thinner air. A swarm of physicians, assistants, media, and bolivian military personnel crowded around Chris with a stretcher. I watched in amazement as they brought out an oxygen tank with a mask.

The Alto Irpavi Velodrome.

What a view!.

Chris and his team arrived the day before the event. He chose not to acclimatize for several reasons: the frenchman, Torant, performed his record setter on his 2nd attempt within two days of arrival; the weather conditions were ideal and it was best to take advantage of it; even though the body acclimatizes, it was best to capitalize on his peak condition immediately. Also, the Hoy team spent over $100,000 dollars in preparation for the event. They didn´t want to lose any chances.

Chris Hoy is a two time Olympic champion and time trialist. He holds multiple medals in the kilometer, and he set the Olympic record in the kilometer, a record for the kilometer at sea level, seven time world champion, twenty one gold medals in the world cup, and the world keirin championship in Japan. If there was anyone with the potential to beat Arnaud´s record, Chris was it. Chris and his team trained for a year in preparation for the event, and in his typical fashion, Chris trained in an almost masochistic tendency. He´d sprint full blast on his spinning bike, and then collapse in pain on a mattress nearby, while occasionally puking into a bucket. When he set his record sprint in the Olympics, and captured the gold medal, he called it, “one of the easiest days I ever had”, in comparison to his training days.

The Alto Irpavi Velodrome.

The Hoy team, which consists of Hoy, his mother, father, physical trainer and physiologist, doctor, and a few other personnel, started their preparation a year before. Hoy´s father looked up the Alto Irpavi velodrome on the Internet, and searched for a contact. He found one Ruben Martinez Arroyo, a bolivian athlete, cyclist, and engineer. What followed next was several months of email exchange and dialog, culminating in Ruben, DHL, the La Paz federation of cyclists, and the bolivian people´s warm welcome of the Hoy team to La Paz. On the day of the event, the La Paz government even sent out a military brass band and cultural dancers to the event. The event was also under the supervision of the UCI World Cycling Federation, to ensure professional standards, anti doping procedures, and officiating of the record attempt.

Ruben, as an athlete, and father, also has a son, Benjamin Martinez, who´s an Olympian, and set the bolivian record for the kilometer at 1 minute, 4 seconds, and 615th of a second on 6th July 2000. But Ruben, at the young age of 71, wasn´t content with just watching his son set a record. He was out to set a record of his own. On the same day of Hoy´s attempt, Ruben was scheduled to attempt to break the 2000 meter Master´s record, which was set in 2004 at 2 minutes, 44 seconds, and 905th of a second by the american, Keith Harrison, at the sea level velodrome in Manchester, New England.

The crowd around Chris separated, and the president of the federation announced that Chris was alright, as he walked back to his tent with the assistance of his physiologist and doctor. The oxygen mask was attached to his face.

I sat in the stadium stands, and commiserated a bit with the DHL team, who were dressed in a yellow DHL shirt, baseball caps, and umbrellas. Chyang, the english speaking contact of the team muttered, “Oh no. I hope he´s alright.” He was genuinely concerned for Chris. I sympathized a bit with Chris. Just a few months ago, I had my own physical battle against soroche when I charged up 4000 meters in altitude on my loaded bicycle in Peru, before getting nailed severely with the high altitude sickness. The feeling is akin to the after effects of being hit in the head with a baseball bat.

The DHL bolivia team played a vital role in the Hoy team´s record attempt. They arranged the reception and transport of the equipment, which included the $15,000 dollar carbon monocoque frames, and high tech helmets. Lucky for me, Chyang was the primary contact and mediator between the Hoy team, who didn´t speak spanish, and DHL, who didn´t speak english.

I arrived in La Paz a week before, after an amazing downhill from El Alto to the main city, which resided in a canyon. It was my second time in almost 6 years. I sped down the canyon in excess of 60 kilometers per hour, thanks to the steep angle of the road, until my right brake handle broke apart during the descent. The nonfunctional brake, combined with a 160 kilo mass flying downhill, and an aching leg and knee from the accident in the northern route of Lake Titicaca made me leery of taking any more chances. As I cautiously pumped my left brake, I cruised down to the Plaza San Francisco, before calling Chyang to pick me up.

When I arrived at his home, he asked me if I knew about Chris Hoy. The name was unfamiliar to me. As a bicycle nut and cyclist from the USA, the names I knew were the endurance champions: Lance Armstrong, Greg Lemond, and Hincapie. The only time trialist I was familiar with was Chris Boardman, who pioneered several different positions for bicycle time trial frames, before the UCI mandated the standard diamond frame and position as the international requirement for races and records. Naturally, as a cyclist and triathlon enthusiast, I leaped at the opportunity to see Hoy break the record. As a biomedical engineer and student of bicycle technology, I also wanted to see Chris´s bicycle, and maybe even touch it.

Track Bikes and Fixed Gears

Track Bikes. Pure, unadulterated speed.

Chyang and I arrived at the stadium on the overcast morning of the 12th, May 2007, day one of the Hoy attempt. The conditions seemed good, but there was some wind, and it was cold. It was 8 AM, and as we entered the reception area of the stadium, I went, as usual, to study the fixed gear bicycles, which were set in a rack on display. The track bike is a fixed gear bicycle, and it´s the gold standard for the time trial for several reasons: it´s light, with just the essentials necessary for high speed; with just one speed, it´s simple, which means less chances for mechanical problems; it´s highly efficient, other than air friction and road friction, very little energy is lost through the chain, noise, and gear resistance. A fixed gear means no freewheel. The legs and the wheels spin at the same time, and the legs provide not just the acceleration and speed, but they´re also the brakes. Thus, both the quads and the hamstrings are forced to work. This has it´s own set of problems, especially for people used to a freewheel. I built my own fixed gear from an old road bike, a surly cog, and a sugino crank, and the first time I rode it, I completely forgot about the lack of a freewheel. After the obligatory air flight and kissing of the pavement, I rapidly learned to spin all the time.

Most of the track bike´s innovation comes through the frame materials, geometries, and aerodynamic construction. The same technology used in advanced air and space craft materials is used in bicycle frames. Currently, the best frames for time trialists are carbon, with solid carbon wheels, advanced aircraft aluminum alloys, and other ultralight materials.

After inspecting the track bikes, I sat down in the stadium stands while Chyang manned his post with DHL. A bolivian army brass band arrived as I set up my camcorder, and they performed a practice run of bolivian national tunes. After the morning salute to the Bolivian flag, the event began in earnest, starting with the warm up of three cyclists to the music of the band. All three cyclists warmed up as they went around the track, and among them, riding in an old track bike, was Ruben Martinez.

The schedule was for three record attempts. The first two attempts were going to be bolivian, and the last one by Chris Hoy. First was Ruben´s attempt to break the 2000 meter record, and then another bolivian, Pedro Vana of Tarija, would attempt to break the 500 meter record, and then finally was Hoy´s 1000 meter record attempt.

First was Ruben ´s attempt. Ruben is an engineer, with a masters, was educated, and worked in Europe for twelve years before returning to Bolivia. He participated in several Olympic committees and athletic associations, and taught at the Universidad de San Andres. As a biker nut, he, at the young age of 70, knocked off two Master´s world records in the 500 meter, and the 200 meter, and today, he was attempting to set the 2000 meter Master´s world record.

Ruben warms up.

Ruben prepares for his record attempt.

Ruben came out of the stairwell in the center of the velodrome clad in his blue jersey and shorts, while his team brought out his black, carbon track bike, and mounted it on the stand. Ruben mounted the bike, and started his deep breathing exercise. He was equipped with a white aerodynamic speed helmet and glasses. His lungs and stomach expanded, and contracted as he breathed during the countdown. Then the counter approached the start. 3…2…1…0, and Ruben was off.

Ruben´s task was to beat the record of 2 minutes, 44 seconds, and 905th of a second. Ruben was definitely up to the task. He authored a book on Cardiac frequency and Optimal training, and he ran a website based on his conditioning principles. And today, I watched him work those principles to the core. Ruben accelerated to over 43.66 kilometers per hour and then focused on maintaining that speed to the end. Round and round the track he went, and his legs pumped furiously. Ruben passed the infrared cross line in 2 minutes, 44 seconds, and 643th of a second. He did it. Ruben proved his methods and the record was his.

Ruben gets the record!.
The band and the crowd went wild. After all, it was a bolivian, a paceño, from a poor, small country in South America, with less resources and expertise that beat an athlete from the mighty USA.

Next was Pedro´s attempt. A rather chubby man with large, muscular legs came out of the stair well, dressed in tights that said, “Tarija”. He then did his warm up around the track, and then commenced his attempt to break the 500 meter record. One round and a half around the track later, and Pedro failed to break the world record.

The crowd quieted down, and the band started to play a military hymn. The winds of the early morning were calm, and the temperature warmed up. The conditions were perfect. Chris came out of the stair well in the center of the field. An oxygen mask was attached to his face, while his doctor carried his tank. He was dressed head to toe in black tights for the cold weather. He took off the mask, while his physiologist and trainer wheeled out one of the 15,000 dollar carbon frames. Chris mounted the bike, and then rode it a few times around the track to warm up, dismounted, put the mask back on, and then went down the stair well.

Chris warms up.

Chris readys for the attempt.

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Thirty minutes later, at 11 AM, Chris reappeared, this time dressed in the white and rainbow colors of the Olympics. The oxygen mask was still attached to his face, and he had his helmet with the visor on. He walked to the start position with the mask and tank, and sat on a chair as he forced his breathing. His trainer pulled out another carbon frame, carried it to the start position, and mounted it on the start stand. Chris continued to breath into the mask.

For Chris to break the record, he´d have to accelerate from 0 to 60 kph in 150 meters in approximately 9 seconds. To put this in perspective, a fast sports car should normally do 0 to 60 miles per hour in 10 seconds. This gives it an acceleration of 2.68 meters per second per second, in a distance of 134 meters in 10 seconds.

Chris must do 3.84 meters per second per second, in 8.83 seconds, in a distance of 150 meters in order to equal Arnaud Torant´s record, and he must exceed that acceleration and velocity to beat him.

Chris removed the mask, and mounted the bike. With both hands on his waist, his exaggerated breathing made him appear to drink in the air. As the count down proceeded, he grabbed the handle bars, flexed his muscles, stretched his back, and on zero, took off.

Chris´s Dad consoles him.

Chris accelerated the bike half way around the lap in 13.456 seconds, lap one in 22.23 seconds, lap and a half in 30.720 seconds, lap two in 39.861 seconds, reached two and a half laps at the astonishing mark of 41.103 seconds, and finally finished the 1000 meters in 59.103 seconds. He was short of Tourant by .228 of a second.

The crowd was silent, stunned actually, because never before did they experience the deafening roar that rumbled through the velodrome of a human powered speed machine. Hoy cooled down as he went around the track, before finally stopping in front of the clock, where his father consoled him. Then he cycled to the other side of the track, and collapsed.

To power the body through Hoy´s astonishing feat is the equivalent of squatting 600 pounds through 1000 repetitions in 59 seconds. It is a pure, anaerobic torment of the body, and at this altitude, the combination of lactic acid and lack of oxygen wreaks havoc on the body.

Hoy went down the stair well with his team, before returning, and rode his bike around the track to applause. He was going to rest and make a 2nd attempt the next day. On his second attempt, he made 58.880 seconds. He was off by a 5000th of a second. Arnaud Torant´s record held. I imagined the frenchman must´ve been toasting to the rebuff of Hoy´s attempt.

The bike!.

Chris readys for the attempt.

At Hoy´s press conference later that day, as he sucked in the oxygen mask, he stated that there wouldn´t be any more attempts. In addition, he wanted to focus on the Olympics, and that the 1000 meters was no longer an Olympic event.

The next day, Hoy went on to break the 500 meter launched record. Later that night, the Hoy´s held a cocktail party in their hotel, where Chris, Mr and Mrs. Hoy thanked the Ruben, the DHL team, Chyang, and La Paz federation of cyclists, and the bolivian people. The event turned into a toast to the man who broke the 2000 meter Master´s world record, Ruben Martinez, who at 71, proved there was no limit to what the mind and body could do.

Three Ciclists.

Dave and Ruben.

Two Cyclists.

The author, posing with Chris Hoy

Come sign up for the Dave’s New Adventures Newsletter, where we can update you on the latest in Dave’s adventures in the world, technology, and geopolitics. Put yourself ahead of world events with events and analysis that the mainstream, and even the fringe isn’t even reporting!



  1. Thanks guys, good info.

  2. good aritcle

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