by Jamie Mack
Looking back a few years and the mention of electronic shifting usually merited a remark about Mavic’s before-their-time components, if there was anyone there that even remembered them. Fast forward to 2010 and, while still not commonplace given the price tag, the Shimano Di2 electronic Dura Ace component group has demonstrated that electronic shifting has a place in this sport. More commonly found on the bikes of pros, and others whose bikes are worth more than the average car, it wasn’t a surprise to see it on a matched pair of Focus Mares in the pits at some of the bigger US races this season. What was surprising perhaps, was that the bikes were there for the Junior race.
Before the images of soccer moms and football dads living vicariously through their children take over, we should clarify that these bikes don’t belong to your average Junior. Going into the World Championships early next year, Yannick Eckmann is on the short list of favorites. Currently ranked third in the UCI standings, Eckmann finished well at last year’s World Championships as a first-year UCI Junior and finished in the top 10 at the Koksijde World Cup earlier this season. Eckmann completed an unbeaten streak at all US events featuring UCI Junior races including the Granogue weekend and the USGP series. The only rider this season to approach Eckmann consistently has been American favorite (NOTE: though living in Colorado, Eckmann is German) Jeff Bahnson (Van Dessel Factory Team). Could part of the success be the bikes?
The frames that Eckmann rides are the top offerings from the German manufacturer, as demonstrated by their use under some of the Milram riders at this year’s Paris-Roubaix, as well as the Rapha-Focus team. The full carbon fiber frame is matched to a Focus Cross Carbon fork. The thick front end uses oversized 1.5″ bearings on the bottom race, providing extra stiffness for out-of -the-saddle-death-grip-on-the-bars moments. The front meets is match in the BB30 bottom bracket and stout chainstays, all of which help Eckmann harness all the power his legs can unleash. The stiffness is balanced by thin, bowing seatstays that are designed to provide a bit of flex for comfort and to help with traction. The top tube is flattened to provide a little extra comfort when lifting the bike through unrideable sections. (See our review of this Focus Mares Team in Issue 8).
The frame sports a couple of odd parts, thanks to the Shimano Dura Ace Di2 spec with the battery and relay mounted behind the seat tube. The rigors of cross seem an odd match for such high-tech gadgetry, but Eckmann told Cyclocross Magazine that, “it has been perfect.” The bottom bracket itself is, almost literally, a little out of place. The BB30 has a drop of 70cm which puts the rider a bit lower than what you’d expect to find on a Euro frame. The lower center of gravity can be a benefit, but can also require a bit more attention from the rider to get through the technical stuff.
The component spec on the Mares is also high-end, suited to a rider at the top of the sport. In addition to the mentioned Di2 drivetrain, Shimano provides parts throughout the bike. PRO branded components support Eckmann at both ends and include the carbon stem and 7000-series alloy handlebars. The white saddle and seatpost, again PRO brand parts, complete the, well, “pro” look by complementing the flow of the colors on the frame.
The brakes are one of the few components that Shimano did not provide to the young German. TRP Euro-X Mags, in white of course, bring the bike to a halt. The brakes work in opposition to Shimano Dura Ace wheels, wrapped in tubulars from none other than Dugast. While the bike CXM was able to steal a few minutes with was equipped with Rhinos, it’s certain that Eckmann has other treads at his disposal and his pit bike, had another set of options mounted and ready to go.
Eckmann is certainly making the most of his last year as a junior, and the frames and components that are carrying him are proving to be up to the task. Approachable and friendly, Eckmann is a popular rider among the ‘cross community and many fans from the US will likely adopt his as their own as they wish him the best in St. Wendel early next year. He’s one young talent we won’t see in Bend.