Last weekend, in the UCI race in China, despite all four top ranked riders taking their turn at the front of the race, Thijs Al successfully defended his title from 2013. Although Al made a name for himself as one of the fastest starters in cyclocross, Zach McDonald won the holeshot and led for the first lap. Ryan Trebon had the lead going into the final lap, but Thijs Al appeared to to be one with the most left in his tank.
While some racers like Zach McDonald unveiled their new rides for the season in China, and other racers like Ryan Trebon were awaiting for their new bikes to be delivered at Cross Vegas, newly-retired Thijs Al took a different approach, and we take a look at the bike that kept Al undefeated in Chinese cyclocross.
As we reported weeks ago, he announced retirement at the end of 2013 and now has a full-job with the AGU cycling clothing company. Although he won last year’s race on a Telenet/Fidea colored X-Night, Al didn’t get to keep those bikes, and to compete in this year’s race, Al went into the garage and cobbled together this race bike with a mix of old and new components.
Al told Cyclocross Magazine his black mystery bike “may or may not be the same the same frame I rode to win the World Cup in Zolder” back in 2008. Back then, racing for BeOne, Al raced a BeOne-labeled Ridley X-Fire frame.
The dark yellow and white of last year’s Ridley has been supplanted with this painted-over X-Fire, as Ridley is no longer a sponsor. The age of the frame is most obvious with the cable routing, which sends the bare cables atop the top tube rather than run them through the frame. Riding older, painted or taped-over-logos frames is nothing new, as we saw Jonathan Page do the same to his Blue Norcross SL to win the 2013 Cyclocross National Championships.
With the older model, Al found ways to shed some weight from his bike in 2014. Most glaringly, he moved from SRAM Red to the Force CX1 cyclocross single-ring drivetrain, saving some weight by eliminating the front derailleur, DoubleTap guts and extra chainring. Because the Ridley X-Night and X-Fire models require a front derailleur clamp instead of using a direct mount, Al was able to shed a few more grams than he would have otherwise.
This year, he also ditched the water bottle cage, which justified by the heat in 2013, and he opted for the lighter, thinner-profile Fast Forward wheels over the EDCO deep-dish wheels of last year. Considering the course was described by Ryan Trebon as both fast and dry, Thijs Al didn’t need any mud-shedding ability from his rims.
SRAM’s CX1 drivetrian appears to be making a splash already. While it is obviously still very early in the season with only one UCI race, the system can boast an undefeated record as both Thijs Al and Ellen van Loy won their races on it. 44 teeth is one of the larger options offered by SRAM, and is already a popular one with many elite riders like Al and McDonald. Of the few carry-over components from last year, Al opted to keep using his Shimano XTR pedals.
The Force levers are not necessarily a downgrade from last year’s Red levers as both shifters now use the same internal guts. The biggest difference between Al’s CX1 and the other Americans competing in the race is that this X-Fire’s Force levers don’t have the taller hoods of SRAM’s second-generation hydraulic brakes. Thijs Al has used cantilever brakes for most of his cyclocross career, switching from the Shorty Ultimate brakes on his last year’s bike to the Shorty 6 models that helped him win this year. As we saw at Eurobike 2014, disc brakes are all the rage in Europe this year, but we didn’t hear Al complaining about his stopping power
For his cockpit and seatpost, this X-Fire used Zipp’s Service Course line—not the higher-end, lighter Service Course SL group. Another familiar friend from last year is Al’s Garmin Edge mounted to his stem. He could have been tracking his heart-rate or just used the computer as a convenient way to measure time, but he clearly isn’t using a power meter anywhere on this bike.
Fast Forward Wheels (FFWD) began in 2006, and their products are handmade in the Dutch town of Zwolle. The company was started by Henk Schipper, who learned much of the industry trade through SRAM in the mid-90’s. Although FFWD has a versatile lineup of products, Thijs Al decided to choose their 20mm, low-profile rims, which shaved a considerable amount of weight from the deeper-dish wheels.
Al took a relaxed approach to this year’s race, hoping for only a top-ten finish, and carrying his 20-pound baby in a carrier while touring The Great Wall a day before the race. He also took a relaxed approach to his equipment, grabbing some older race wheels when packing his bike for China, but this almost backfired.
During one of Thijs Al’s practice runs the day before the race, he rolled his rear tubular, which was a Tufo Flexus Primus, with a previous season’s glue. Al was prepared for this possibility however, and had glue with him. Putting a sloppy coat on the rim and then the tire, he waited for them to get a bit tacky and then mounted the tire. He was nervous on race day but it seemed to work out well for him, despite the shorter-than-ideal drying time.
Stay tuned for more bike profiles from China, including a future profile of Zach McDonald’s bike. Also, be sure to check out our recent profile of Japanese rider Sakiko Miyauchi’s Author Team CX.
Thijs Al’s 2014 Qiansen Trophy-Winning Ridley X-Fire Photo Gallery:
Frame: Ridley X-Fire, circa 2008
Shifters: SRAM Force 11-Speed, CX1 left brake lever
Front Derailleur: N/A
Rear Derailleur: SRAM CX1 Type 2 Derailleur
Cranks: SRAM CX1, 44t X-Sync chainring
Pedals: Shimano XTR M980
Wheels: Fast Forward (FFWD), 20mm deep carbon tubular rim
Tires: Dugast Typhoon 32mm front, Tufo Flexus Primus 32mm rear
Brakes: Avid Shorty 6, Swiss Stop Yellow King brake pads
Seat Post: Zipp Service Course
Saddle: Selle San Marco Regale