In 2009, he and then-teammate Cadel Evans put on a fantastic display of recklessness attempting a late-race escape at the Tour of Romandie. So no surprise here that he hit 74 miles an hour tearing down a training camp descent on the bumper of the team car.
Gilbert’s teammates were similarly unimpressed with the effort, and rattled off their own feats, with one in particular cocking my eyebrows: Adam Blythe’s claim of 73 mph on flat ground behind the team car.
Cyclists have been going very fast behind other vehicles for a long, long time, and with an absolute drafted speed record of 167 mph, the question isn’t really whether Blythe had the ability to do this, but whether he could have pulled it off on a standard road bike.
While chainrings can get pretty much as big as you need, I’m going to assume Blythe did this on a stock setup with a 53×11 top gear. According to the late Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator, that’s 10.1 meters per pedal revolution. 117 kph converts to 1,950 meters per minute; at 10.1 meters per pedal stroke, Blythe would need to turn out a little more than 193 pedalstrokes per minute.
That’s friggin’ fast, but not too far outside what you generally see in a track sprint. Given Blythe’s upbringing on the boards, and the fact that the Internet seems to think 200+ is no problem in a no-resistance sprint effort, I’d say it’s entirely reasonable. And under comparison some other drafted record attempts, it definitely holds up.
Mile-a-Minute Murphey’s famous ride was, according to Les Woodland, accomplished on a 104-inch gear. His 57.8 second mile effort translates to 99.5 kph, or 1,658 meters/minute. Using the .08 conversion from gear inches to meters development, that’s a fraction of a pedal stroke below 200 rpm—in fact higher than Adam Blythe’s cadence.
Conversely, Rompelburg’s record came on a gear offering a staggering 38.4 meters development—meaning he broke 268 kph turning a relatively pedestrian 129 rpm; this correlates well with research indicating the best cadence for power output is around 120rpm.
So to any of Blythe’s Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates who might feel inclined to snatch the youngsters’ record, your best bet is almost certainly to toss on a bigger chainring.