Cyclist Denise Mueller sets one speed record, falls short of another

Cyclist Denise Mueller (left) and driver Shea Holbrook plan to make another run at the world record next year. Denise Mueller/Facebook

Denise Mueller's bid to go faster on a bicycle than anyone ever came up short Tuesday, but she made history nonetheless.

Mueller's official speed of 147.75 mph on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats set a women's world record for fastest speed on a paced bicycle. No woman had ever attempted the mark before her. The speed was well short of the overall world record of 167 mph, set in 1995 by Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg.

Wet conditions on the salt flats prevented Mueller from making any runs in the final day of the four-day World of Speed event. Mueller, who is from California, said she believes that with one more day, she had an excellent chance of eclipsing the one-time world record of 152.2 mph set in 1985 by American John Howard, now her coach.

"We were prepared to really be able to push the envelope for at least another 10 mph today, but we weren't able to do it," Mueller said Tuesday night while driving back to California with Howard and her pace vehicle driver, sports car racer Shea Holbrook. "It didn't take much time for us all to say we're pretty much on board to do this again next year."

Going 147.75 mph is still an incredible accomplishment. In this type of record, the cyclist is towed to 90 mph and then has to gain the additional speed on his or her own, while drafting behind the pace vehicle blocked from the wind by a fairing.

Howard said Mueller had to make her record attempts on a course that was one mile shorter, four miles rather than five, than the one on which he and Rompelberg set their records.

"We didn't have enough distance to go 155 mph," Howard said of Mueller's runs. "We needed one more mile."

Mueller said she and Holbrook had planned Tuesday to compensate for the shorter-than-expected distance by climbing to the tow-release speed faster, which would have given Mueller more distance to gain speed.

She said the drafting was different than she expected.

"I mean, there was a lot of surging," Mueller said. "In my mind, somehow, I felt it was going to be this straight line increase of speed. It's this surge forward and then push backward within the vortex. The vortex would push me forward, along with my power output, and then all of a sudden, I would be surging drifting back.

"For Shea and I, we were working on getting in sync to where she was going forward when I was coming toward the car, and as I started drifting back, she needed to let up on the accelerator. Four of our runs ended with me going off the back end [losing the draft]. We were getting there."

Mueller was able to make record attempts on only two of the World of Speed's four days. The team had to take its 550-horsepower Range Rover Sport SVR to Salt Lake City for repairs Saturday after the salt fouled the vehicle's high-tech electronics.

Mueller, Howard and Holbrook consider their Project Speed a success.

"We did this with all of the documentation, so short of them coming up with something obscure that we didn't adhere to, which we don't anticipate anything like that, it will be the first female paced bicycle land speed record," Mueller said. "We have an active application in Guinness already waiting for the data."