with reporting from Anna Schwinn and Andrew Yee
Some subscribers have been enjoying our long-awaited Issue 31, which features our in-depth cover story on Matt Kelly, America'a only Cyclocross World Champion. Some of you may have never heard of Kelly. Others may have heard tales of the kid from Wisconsin. Kelly completely disappeared from cyclocross and the cycling world, and it has taken us nearly nine years to track him down and have him tell his story. It's a must-read for any cyclocross fan, and a story filled with invaluable cycling and life lessons. Issue 31 featuring Kelly is available in print and digital formats, but his story won't be published on our website anytime soon.
While rumors swirled for years about Kelly's training techniques, Worlds win and post-Worlds path, an equal number of rumors centered around Kelly's Worlds-winning bike.
“And equally as low tech is Kelly’s steel 853 Lemond frame [from Worlds], likely simply one of the Lemond road frames with a ‘cross fork plus a set of cantilever bosses welded on for the rear brake.” - The BobkeStrut blog [The site is dated and broken, so visit at your own risk. - Ed Note.]
Did Kelly win Worlds on a converted road bike? Not quite. The LeMond Matt Kelly rode to his historic win in Poprad, Slovakia, was made specifically for Kelly in Waterloo, Wisconsin, back when LeMond was part of Trek. And yes, Kelly's ride is the reason the LeMond cyclocross bike came to have the name Poprad.
The 1999 Worlds bike was Kelly's second Worlds rig. The first year he raced Worlds in 1998, Kelly rode an all black Bontrager. "And then I was on a the LeMond team that second year," Kelly told Cyclocross Magazine. "That was a really cool team, actually. Really good people on the team. I liked everyone on the team. [Trek] built custom bikes for us," said Kelly before adding that
"[t]hey asked how I wanted [the LeMond] made. I don’t know if they listened to what I said, but I said I wanted it just the same as the Bontrager with just a lower bottom bracket. I don’t know if they actually did that"
Kelly's bike was quite likely made from Reynolds 853, but wasn’t labeled in terms of the tubing used. When we spoke with Kelly for our interview with him in Issue 31, Kelly wasn’t entirely sure either. The fork on the bike too was a one-off, certainly not production Lemond fork, and it looks remarkably similar to an Independent Fabrication offering from that era.
Kelly's drivetrain was a then top-end Shimano Dura-Ace 7700 series kit, complete with 9-speed cassette, crank with 39/48 rings, STI levers and derailleurs. Of course, there were no disc brakes on cyclocross bikes at the top of the sport back then. So to scrub speed Kelly used Dia Compe 987 purple anodized cantilevers, holdovers from the mid 90's anodized mountain bike component craze.
One aspect of the Kelly lore that does ring true is his mismatched clincher tires. Up front Kelly ran a Michelin Mud with a listed size of 700x30c, the same legendary tread that still goes for a premium on eBay. The Michelin Mud was one of the rare tires that wasn’t undersized compared to its claimed width. Kelly's version is the skinwall one, before the greenwall version was released. On the rear, Kelly ran a 700x32 Ritchey Speedmax. This is a tire that is still available, but not in the skinwall version Kelly had in 1998 and 1999. Regarding the unique tire choice for his World Championship winning ride, Kelly made that call. "Because the green Mud was really knobby and I wanted that traction in the front. In the back, I didn’t think I needed it to stick quite as much," he said.
Kelly raced on clincher Rolf Vector Pro paired-spoke wheels. Like LeMond, the Rolf brand was owned by Trek back then as well before it split off to become Rolf Prima.
Kelly's cockpit, perhaps unsurprisingly given the LeMond/Trek connection was Trek’s Icon Graphite house brand of components, which is where Kelly's bar, stem and seatpost all came from. His saddle was a Bontrager offering. As for the pedals, Kelly was racing Time's venerable ATAC model in 1999.
When asked about his bike and equipment choices, Kelly wasn't sure that was the difference maker. "I mean, I don’t think the equipment really- I mean, my bike, I’m sure the other guy [Sven Vanthourenhout] had a nicer bike, but I had Dura-Ace on that bike. It wasn’t a bad bike. It had clinchers, but I don’t even know if that was really a disadvantage," he said.
Certainly not for Kelly.
Matt Kelly's 1999 Junior Cyclocross World Championship Winning LeMond Cyclocross Bike Specification Highlights
Frame: Trek-made LeMond steel cantilever frame
Fork: steel, cantilever
Wheels: Rolf Vector Pro clinchers
Tires: Micheline Mud 30mm (front); Ritchey Speedmax 32mm (rear)
Stem: Icon Graphite
Handlebars: Icon Graphite
Shift/brake levers: Shimano Dura-Ace 7700
Brake calipers: Dia Compe 987 cantilevers
Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace 7700
Front derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 7700
Rear derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 7700
Pedals: Time ATAC
Seatpost: Icon Graphite