World Cup XC Race Bikes - See what the pro's ride!

Beyond the race action and star spotting, the Cairns round of the UCI World Cup also offered a unique opportunity to see what the pros really ride.

XC Bikes

The cross-country course at Smithfield had some very technical sections, with drops, chutes and rock gardens befitting of a downhill track. There was speculation that riders would be opting for dual suspension bikes and dropper posts to assist on the more challenging A-lines but it wasn’t to be. Virtually all the riders were on the same lightweight hardtails that they always ride and there wasn’t a dropper post in sight.

While most were on 29ers, a few were sporting 27.5 wheels. All of the bikes were weighed as ridden, so the weight weenies out there need to take 30-40g off to account for the race number plate, 30-60g for the drink bottle cage and so on. Overall most builds were surprisingly solid, with few displaying extremely exotic lightweight parts. Most riders were using regular ‘clincher’ style tyres converted to tubeless; we didn’t see many bikes with glue-on style tubular tyres. 

Julien Absalon

Even with a puncture in the race, Julien Absalon still came through for the win in the elite men’s race; he’s an absolute superstar of cross-country racing. Along with his personal mechanic, he’d brought two BMC Team Elite hardtails to Cairns, both with identical setups. As pictured his bike came in at 9.1kg (call it 9kg flat as he didn’t run the mud fender and Garmin on race day).

Back in April the new 9000 series XTR wasn’t even available to the top pros, so Julien’s bike still had the older generation drivetrain (he’s now running the new XTR in the 1X format). The 36T chainring was plucked from the Shimano Saint DH group and the BMC branded direct mount carbon guide was particularly tidy.

The Fox 32 fork was fitted with their iCD electronic lockout and the 680mm wide bars were fitted with ESI silicon-foam grips.

A thick layer of transparent film protects the top tube. It’s positioned to stop the brake/gear lever damaging the frame if the bars swing around in a crash. 

Icetech ‘Freeza’ rotors feature additional fins for improved cooling—something borrowed from their Saint DH rotors. A bolt-up front axle sheds a few grams while still allowing fast wheel changes with the track-side tech support that’s allowed in modern World Cup races. 

Built with XTR hubs, the alloy rims were simply marked ‘BMC Reserve’. Apparently they are 320g Stan’s Gold rims. The tyres are Continental Race Kings in a 2.2 casing. 

Rebecca Henderson

Bec’s Superfly is one of the lighter frames on the World Cup scene, and as pictured the complete bike comes in at 9.23kg with a double chainring setup. 

Being 158cm tall and riding a 29er, Bec needs a special custom negative 40-degree 100mm stem to get the bars where she wants them. Her bars are almost old-school width at 590mm. In contrast, her partner Dan McConnell runs a negative 25-degree stem with 680mm wide bars. A Fox iCD electronic lockout is used for the fork and ESI silicon grips.

This trick low-cost fender stops mud from being flicked forward from the tyre and up onto the rider’s face. It was fashioned from an old bidon but you could use any plastic bottle. Bec had it fitted through practice but it was snipped off before the race as the course had dried completely.

While it’s now changed with the M-9000 series cranks, the smallest big ring on XTR Race cranks used to be a 40T. Even the ‘Trail’ version had a 38T large chainring. Bec was using a 36-tooth big ring from Shimano’s mid-range SLX group to get some more manageable gearing. Shimano has now recognised the need for a smaller chainring options and the new XTR double will come in 26/36 and 24/34 options. Bec also uses shorter than average 170mm cranks.

Bec was running a prototype saddle that will be added to the Bontrager product line shortly. Called the Montrose, it follows similar lines to their existing Evoke model but has slightly more upsweep at the tail for XC racers to push against whilst climbing.

A tiny 140mm Shimano Freeza rotor is used on the back to trim grams. The rear wheel is secured by a quick release thru-axle while the front uses a 15mm bolt-up thru-axle.

Julie Bresset

Current World and Olympic champion Julie Bresset was another really big name present in Cairns. Riding for the BH Suntour team, their riders can choose between 27.5 and 29-inch hardtails, and most have opted for the smaller wheels (from Julie at 167cm through to Stephane Tempier at 183cm tall). Julie’s bike hit the scales at 10.16kg (which was probably closer to 10kg without the mud).

The Suntour Axon RL-RC fork uses a hollow alloy crown and carbon fibre sliders with magnesium dropouts—they are claimed to weigh 1,575g in the 27.5 version. With 100mm of travel they come with a bar mounted remote lockout as well as external compression and rebound adjusters.

The bars are 640mm wide, fitted with silicon foam grips and Julie was running a regular flipped 5-degree stem with 10mm of spacers underneath.

Get a few World Championships titles under your belt like Julie and you too could have a schmick custom paint job like this!

The single 32T chainring comes from French brand TA Specialites. There’s no fancy wide-narrow tooth profiling but the eThirteen XCX direct mount top guide serves to keep the chain on.

Paul van der Ploeg

Current World XC Eliminator Champion Paul van der Ploeg is a big unit for a cross-country racer. Standing at 193cm he makes his XL Giant XTC 29er look like a BMX bike. Despite the size, his hardtail still comes in at 9.86kg (taken without the Garmin 810 GPS).

Even with an XL frame, Paul still needs a 410mm-long Thompson seatpost to achieve the 880mm saddle height that he requires (centre of BB to the saddle). The skinny 27.2mm post diameter only serves to make it appear longer—at least it provides some real flex and comfort when seated!

The XTC Advanced SL frame uses a trick looking hidden wedge assembly that secures the seatpost internally.

It’s not just the seatpost that’s long, Paul also runs a 120mm long Giant carbon road stem. This length is only accentuated by the Garmin 810 that’s mounted forward of the bars. The stem itself is a regular 1 1/8 size—Paul uses a one-piece BlackBox carbon crown/steerer assembly, and they aren’t available to suit Giant’s proprietary 1 1/4 Overdrive 2 system.

Another fan of ESI silicon grips, Paul is running a custom Aussie green and gold set—it’s actually three separate pieces. He mounts them with an air compressor (no glue or hairspray) and hasn’t found any issues with them slipping, even in wet conditions. The extra lever is the remote lockout for his SID World Cup fork.

Big cog – tiny rotor. Visually, the 42 cog on SRAM’s XX1 cassette takes some getting used to as it’s bigger than a typical 160mm disc rotor. Seeing this dinner plate next to the diminutive 140mm rotor on Paul’s race bike takes it to another level!

Paul goes chain-guide free on his X-Sync equipped XX1 crankset. He was running a 34-tooth chainring for the cross-country at Cairns.

Katrin Leumann

Many of the bikes we checked out were relatively stock but Katrin Leumann’s Ghost was far from it. The Swiss rider had her bike decked out with a comprehensive array exotica from German brands Tune and AX Lightness. As a result she had the lightest bike that we saw; it came in at 7.9kg—pretty impressive for a medium sized 29er with clincher tyres.

Built with Sapim CX-Ray spokes, her wheels were built around Tune’s Prince and Princess hubs. Up front the 99-gram Princess Skyline uses straight-pull radial non-drive side spokes the flanges are reinforced by an external wrap of carbon fibre. The rear Prince hub uses similar alloy/carbon construction and weighs just 189g.

The AX Lightness carbon rims come in at just 325g each but measure in at a sizable 30mm across (25mm wide internally). This width allows Katrin to use narrower tyres (29x.2.1 when we saw it) whilst still having a large air volume for comfort and traction. Wide rims provide more support to the sidewalls so you can run lower air pressure without tyre squirm or burping issues.

Even the small details were looked after with a Tune Bubi headset and a super-exotic AX Lightness Rigid stem. It’s a shame the full carbon 74g stem was mostly obscured by Katrin’s number plate and Magellan GPS—it’s an amazing piece of work.

More carbon than you can poke a spoke at. The AX Lightness post is custom built to suit a specific saddle height, as they reinforce the carbon with aramid fibres in the clamping zone. Weights vary depending on the saddle height but they are usually in the 100-130g range. Katrin said she finds the full-carbon AX Lightness saddle comfortable and has the same model fitted to her road bike—it weighs just 69g! This is all topped off with a 5g Tune Skyline seatpost collar.

Coming in at under 100g, the AX Lightness bars were 640mm wide and Katrin prefers XX1 twist shifters over triggers. As with just about every XC bike that we looked at, the grips come from ESI.

Andy Blair

Placing 28th in the elite men’s cross-country, Aussie hero Andy Blair had an awesome ride in Cairns. He was amongst the few who chose to ride a dually. His 95mm travel Specialized Epic WC weighed in at 10.8kg—that was without the spare tube, C02 inflator and multi-tool that he had strapped to the top tube during training (we also removed a few grams to account for the mud).

While he only used one bottle during the race, the Epic is one of the few full suspension bikes that can carry two bottles within the frame—a valuable feature in marathon events.

The new Specialized cranks use a one-piece carbon arm and spider combined with a SRAM X-Sync chainring—Andy was pushing a 32T. The World Cup version of the Epic is a single-ring specific model; it sacrifices chainring clearance to gain shorter chainstays and a beefier swing-arm.

Andy was running a super skinny 1.9-inch version of the fully treaded Ground Control for his rear tyre (580g) in the wet week of riding prior to the race. These were swapped for faster rolling Fast Trak 2.0 tyres for race day as it was a lot drier. He ran the 520g S-Works version up front and the slightly heavier 580g Fast Trak Control on the rear. The carbon Roval wheels offer a moderate 22mm inner width, which helps to give narrower tyres a bit of extra volume.

Grip shifters are combined with foam grips and a 665mm handlebar width. Andy also uses a negative 25-degree Ritchey WCS stem to get the handlebars down low. Blairy had a Garmin 500 on his bars and unlike most he left it there for race day.

Helen Grobert

Helen Grobert won the under 23 women’s XC and her 9.28kg Focus Raven 29er had a few neat little hop-ups.

Many bikes now have internal cable routing but run a single chainring and you can be left with a vacant hole where the front derailleur cable should go. On Helen’s bike these holes were plugged with silicone putty to tidy it up and prevent water getting inside when the bike is hosed down.

Nokon gear cable is made from multiple ‘beads’ of aluminium with a low friction liner on the inside. It allows for tighter bends than traditional gear cable and more than anything it looks trick in a range of anodised colours.

Astute is a new brand that was formed with the goal of keeping saddle manufacturing in Italy. The Skycarb is their top-end model. It features full-length carbon rails with shock absorbing bumpers that isolate the shell and also serve to prevent creaking. Claimed weight on this model is 160g.

Trail Bikes

In amongst the specialised downhill and cross-country bikes, we also spotted a couple of very new and interesting trail bikes.

Steve Peat’s Nomad

While all of the Santa Cruz Syndicate riders raced their V10 bikes in the downhill, they also had their trail bikes on hand for training and general riding duties. This is Steve Peat’s 2014 Nomad. The new 165mm travel Nomad runs 27.5 wheels but the biggest changes are in the frame geometry. It now runs shorter chainstays with an extremely slack 65-degree head angle, steep 74-degree seat angle and an extra-long front-centre for added stability. As pictured it weighed in at 13.3kg.

The lower link on the Nomad is now tucked up out of harm’s way and the swing-arm has a vertical reinforcing strut on both sides. These changes allowed Santa Cruz to reduce the chainstay length to 433mm but mean that it now only works with 1X drivetrains.

Peaty was amongst the first to get the new Fox 36 fork. The new fork is lighter (claimed to be around 1,900g) and has a new version of their RC2 damper, with independent low and high speed compression adjustments. It offers up to 170mm travel in the 27.5 version (and 180mm for the 26-inch fork).

The Nomad features internal cable routing with moulded in tubes that mean there’s no need to fish for cables when setting the bike up. While internal routing can provide a tidy finish, it’s built with ‘stealth’ style dropper post routing in mind. Peaty runs a Fox post, so the remote cable was paired with the brake hose before running up beside the seat tube. The brake hose is also on the wrong side of the down tube if you run your rear brake on the left side of the bars (like Peaty).

They may have the older-style stickers but these are the new Enve M70 Thirty rims. Measuring 32mm wide externally (25mm internal) they are fractionally wider than their previous AM rims. The new hookless bead is said to offer improved impact resistance while the rims remain impressively light at 453g in a 27.5 size.

Fabien Cousinie’s Polygon

Hutchinson-Polygon team rider Fabien Cousinie travelled to Cairns from Chile after competing in the opening round of the Enduro World Series on this bike. It’s the brand new 27.5 carbon version of their Collosus 160mm travel all-mountain bike. With a pretty burly build it weighed 14.1kg.

Like the alloy Collosus, it uses Polygon’s unique looking short-link suspension design but it has been tweaked to provide a more progressive leverage rate and better bottom out resistance. The chainstays measure in at 430mm which is 5mm shorter than the 26-inch alloy version. Production models will use a Fox Float X rear shock (this one is taped up as Fabien runs Bos suspension).

The carbon frame will feature all-internal cable routing and production models will come with Reverb Stealth dropper posts. Fabien’s bike had been roughly thrown together as a warm-up bike on a trainer, so the cables hadn’t been set up properly. These bikes should be available in Australia by mid-July.

Bits and Bobs

27.5 in DH

The trail bike market has been flooded with 27.5 wheel bikes but until recently most expected pure downhill bikes to stick with lighter, stiffer and stronger 26-inch wheels. Based on what we saw in Cairns, this mightn’t be the case.

A large number of teams were riding prototype 27.5 wheel equipped downhill bikes. GT, Giant, Norco, Lapierre and Polygon all had full-travel DH bikes while Specialized riders Troy Brosnan and Aaron Gwin were riding a prototype 27.5 Enduro with 170mm travel. Intense has had the 27.5 wheeled 951 EVO in production for some time now and Chris Kovarik was riding one.

In time it seems this wheel size could take over in almost every aspect of mountain biking with 26-inch holding out for the dirt jump specialists and 29ers remaining a force in cross-country.

Once considered the realm of the elite roadie or cross-country mountain biker, power meters are now being employed more and more in the gravity side of mountain biking. These were fitted to a Team GT bike and the data provides another way of analysing the course in practice.

In an effort to keep as much mud off the tyres as possible when wheeling through the pits and off the shuttle trailer, the Syndicate team wrapped their wheels in aluminium foil plus a wrap of gaffa tape to finish it off. Don’t think it was a roaring success but we’ll give them points for trying!

A rare sighting; the very new and super-exotic RockShox RS1 upside down suspension fork in the wild. We only saw this one and most of the top SRAM sponsored riders were still riding the SID, but we have to say that it looked better in the flesh than any of the photos that we’d seen prior.

Chris Kovarik is a hard charging rider (he clocked the fastest reading of through the speed trap in his race run), so it was interesting to see him using 400g Zelvy all-mountain rims on his downhill bike. Zelvy is an Australian based brand and the rim is manufactured in Asia. These lightweight rims are 35mm wide (29mm internal) and utilise a titanium reinforced bead hook. The rims sell for $375 each and complete wheelsets start from $1,125.

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