Molly Van Houweling gets into hot water--and into the record books again--in Aguascalientes

In my last race report I compared attempting to set an hour record to one of those crazy challenges that sound completely doable but turn out to be physically impossible—like drinking a gallon of milk in an hour. What’s the only thing crazier than attempting one of those challenges? Doing it again when you know what it was like the first time! In my first hour record attempt in December, 2014, I successfully set a new elite women’s U.S. record. My distance (44.173km) also exceeded the world age group (women 40-44) record of 40.711km. But I didn’t make it into the world record books with that attempt because it was officiated by U.S.A. cycling, not the UCI. So when I learned in January that Dutch professional cyclist Thomas Dekker would be making a UCI-officiated hour record attempt in Aguascalientes, Mexico, I figured that might be a chance for me to set a world masters mark.

With fellow hour hopeful Thomas Dekker
I also wanted to see whether I could extend my U.S. elite record in the thin (=fast) air of Aguascalientes (6194 ft). In my heart of hearts, I was also curious to see how close I could come to world and Olympic champion Leontien van Moorsel’s 2003 UCI Hour Record (46.065km). This final goal was a fantasy in two respects. First, it was fantastically ambitious (even though I would have the advantage of aerodynamic equipment that was forbidden back when van Moorsel set her remarkable record in the even thinner atmosphere of Mexico City). Second, it was technically impossible under UCI rules because I’m not enrolled in the “biological passport” program, which requires athletes to undergo months of blood testing in order to establish their baseline values and facilitate anti-doping controls. I am all for requiring the strictest possible doping controls for this prestigious record. But enrolling in the program presents a formidable financial and logistical barrier for women and amateurs (who, unlike Pro Tour men, are not automatically enrolled in the program). Pacing at van Moorsel’s record, if only to see how close I could come, might help me decide whether to find a way to enroll in the bio passport in anticipation of a future, official, world record attempt.

Back to reality: there were plenty of logistical challenges involved in merely attempting to extend my U.S. record and set a world age group record. As usual, I turned to my resident logistician, Rob VH. He in turn consulted with Jim Turner, who had set multiple masters world marks on the Aguascalientes track last summer. Jim and his coach, Dan Smith, both raved about the staff at the Instituto del Deporte del Estado de Aguascalientes. So Rob started by getting in touch with them. Soon, he was having daily phone, text, and email exchanges with his key contact at the Institute--trying to coordinate lodging, transportation, officials, time keepers, drug-testing, and UCI paperwork. I got used to our dinnertime conversations getting interrupted by phone calls from Rob’s new buddy “Juan.” All of Rob’s advance work meant that I got to spend January and February focused on training according to coach Dave Jordaan’s careful plan. Most of the training was on the road, but I also managed a session at Hellyer Velodrome with guidance from Michael Hernandez and several special sessions at the velodrome in Palma, Mallorca, during our VH family holiday trip.

Training at the Palma velodrome
Although I was happy to train and leave the logistics in Rob’s capable hands, I was curious about some of the details. When I inquired, his answers were always similar. “Did you rent a car?” “Juan took care of it.” “Where are we staying?” “An apartment that Juan found for us.” This line of questioning continued all the way until our arrival at the baggage claim in Aguascalientes. “There are no luggage carts. How on earth are we going to carry all of this stuff?” “Don’t worry. Look, Juan's here to help us!”

Juan’s role in our trip will be clearest to those who, like me, enjoy watching old episodes of “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain while spinning for hours on the indoor trainer. When Bourdain travels to exotic locales in search of food, culture, and adventure, he always has the benefit of a “fixer”—an in-the-know local who explains the unwritten rules of the destination and shows Bourdain its secret gems. I have always thought it would be great to travel with a fixer. In Aguascalientes I finally got my wish: Juan was our fixer. And, despite the best laid plans, there were things to fix. Last-minute cleaning of the track in preparation for Dekker’s attempt (in which he came valiantly and painfully close to the world record) produced so much dust and fumes that my attempt (initially planned for the day before Dekker’s) had to be rescheduled to follow his. This required desperate re-booking of travel and negotiations with track staff and officials. And my final planned training session had to be moved from the (still dusty and fume-filled) indoor velodrome to the outdoor track, which Juan arranged to have opened and illuminated so I could train on it after dark.

With a local cycling family at the outdoor track
When race day finally arrived I tried to stay as calm as I could. I focused on mentally preparing to execute key elements of my race plan: maintaining my aerodynamic position, riding an efficient line around the track, and carefully pacing my effort—which is to say (as Coach Dave emphasized emphatically), don’t go out too hard. As every time trialist has to learn again and again: the thing about going out too hard is that you don’t think you are doing it until it’s too late. This time, “too late” arrived pretty early. I was ahead of world record pace and gaining for about 20 minutes, but then the laps started getting both slower and harder—not a winning combination. It took all of my powers of positive thinking (including images of rocket boosters planted in my head by my inspirational teammate Ellen) to gut out the next 30 middling minutes and then finally pick up the pace in a dizzying final 10 minutes of oxygen-deprived ovals.

When the dust cleared and my final distance was calculated, it amounted to 45.637km, extending my U.S. elite record by nearly 1.5 km and setting the world 40-44 and Pan American elite records (but falling short of van Moorsel’s mark by the equivalent of about 34 seconds). My delight at finally being done and at setting three new records was accompanied by a little disappointment at not having executed my perfect fantasy hour. But it was easy to focus on the delight when spectators—mostly local kids and their families--started to call to me from the rail, asking me to come over and pose for photos with them.
Thumbs up with fans
Reporters were there too, asking me questions about my ride and the records. My Spanish skills—rudimentary under the best of circumstances—suffered from my lingering oxygen debt. So I’m not sure what exactly I managed to convey to the reporters
Post-race interview in Spanglish

But a picture is worth a thousand words of Spanglish. The excellent photographer from the Institute of Sport managed to convey the story of my hour in excruciating, drooling detail—as I learned the next morning when I saw my pain face staring out from the front of the local sports section.

Local news coverage of training and race day
The support team for this record-setting ride included more people than I can mention. I hope they all realize that my small place in the record books is shared with all of them. And I hope I went fast enough that we can hold onto that small place for a long time!

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Team VH post race

 Post-race selfie with Juan

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