Cyclocross racing, with its drop bars, skinny tires and lycra-clad racers, might seem like a distant cousin to mountain biking, but it’s also definitely not the same as road riding. For starters, it’s done mostly off the road, and the bikes have wider tires with some serious tread. However, the sport still requires road strength and mountain bike skills, and a whole lot of finesse…and fitness. Have a look at some of this video of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup stop in Namur, Belgium this past weekend. I guarantee that course would be more than challenging for most fat-tire lovers. Yet the men and women racing on Sunday crushed it with fully-rigid bikes sporting tires no wider than 33mm.
2014/2015 UCI Cyclocross World Champion Mathieu van der Poel from the Netherlands took the win for the elite men on Sunday, as well as the previous day at the Scheldecross in Antwerp. Finally recovered from an injury that hampered his performance last season, van der Poel is on fire recently, taking several wins ahead of current world champion, Wout van Aert.
Mathieu van der Poel (far left) at the start of the Scheldecross in Belgium. Wout van Aert is on the right and leading.
We had the good fortune to spend some time pouring over van der Poel’s Stevens Superprestige cyclocross rig before his win along the sandy river banks in Antwerp, Belgium. The Stevens Superprestige, named for the famed cyclocross series in Belgium, features a full carbon fiber frame and fork, with hydraulic disc brakes and Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain.
Let’s have a closer look.
Van der Poel has twelve bikes to choose from throughout the cyclocross season. They all travel with him to each race, and up to seven go into the pits for him to swap twice per lap.
Having plenty of mud clearance is vital in cyclocross racing. As you can see, the fork sports copious amounts of space so mud doesn’t hinder wheel rotation…at least not too much.
THE go-to tire in professional cyclocross racing is Dugast. Handmade in France, these supple and durable tubular tires are coveted by pros, most of whom have to spend their own money to buy them. Van der Poel’s mechanic told me he runs between 1.0 and 1.67 bars of air pressure during a race. That’s between 14.5 and 24 PSI!
Cyclocross is brutal on the racers and their machines. The electronic Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain is a common site in the pro ranks because it maintains accuracy and reliability in the worst conditions.
Van der Poel’s Stevens #3 bike.
It varies per course, but for the Scheldecross, van der Poel’s Dura-Ace 11-speed drivetrain included a 46/39 crankset and an 11-28 cassette.
A literal arsenal of wheels travels with the pros to each race. More than a dozen sets of wheels sit in the storage compartment of van der Poel’s motorhome.
Van der Poel runs Shimano’s carbon fiber rims and Dura-Ace hubs. Several sets of wheels have different tires/tread to be used for different conditions.
This, in case it’s not obvious, is van der Peol’s #9 set of wheels. They feature a Dugast tires with a file tread. Other wheels in the quiver sport tires with more aggressive treads.
Shimano also provides the cockpit for van der Poel. Check out the PRO integrated stem/bars.
Saddle and post provided by Shimano’s PRO line of components.
Ritchey provides the headset for van der Poel. And his mechanic stressed how important a clean-functioning headset is in cyclocross. In fact, the mechanic told us this as he was changing it for a new one…the old one was only from August.