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By Steve Medcroft
When Saturn decided not to renew its professional road racing team sponsorship in 2003, a cluster of elite cyclists was left looking for new teams. Some riders waited until the last minute, hoping Saturn would renew. One rider, Mark McCormack, having taken the USPRO Championship in Philly, before backing up with a strong second in San Francisco in September, got ahead of the curve, negotiating with the owner of an Italian olive oil manufacturer looking to start up a D3 team in the US.
That move to the Colavita Olive Oil team marked McCormack's transition from simply one member of a powerhouse team to a matured team leader, and put him on a bike from a California manufacturer not well known outside the inner circle of cycling.
Felt Racing USA, eponymously-named after its frame-maker Jim Felt, has been producing time-trial and road frames for almost two decades, and is based in Lake Forest, California. When McCormack, a long-time 'crosser (and both a former junior and elite national champion) approached his first winter wearing Colavita colors, Felt set him up with their F1X: a 7005 scandium, custom-butted, cyclocross-specific frame - 72 degree head tube angle, 73.5 degree seat tube, integrated headset and superb clearance.
Catching up with McCormack in the parking lot of the Highland Park, New Jersey stop of the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross, we asked him about his F1X. "It's all Dura-Ace 10", he begins, starting with the Shimano components, "the full 10-speed kit.
"Not just the chainrings and derailleur but the lighter bottom bracket and crank as well. Except for the brakes, which are Frogglegs [made by Dutch manufacturer, Empella]."
Although many 'cross racers are moving to single front chainrings, McCormack runs double chainrings - 39/46 on the front paired with a 12/25 cassette - for maximum gearing options. The rest of the components - bars, stem, seatpost - are all Felt, except for the wheels; for that, McCormack runs a standard Mavic Kysrium SL wheelset. "I run tubulars 90 percent of the time and a big, heavy clincher tire when the race is less important and the course might be more vulnerable to ruining wheel sets," McCormack explains.
Do the unaltered Ksyriums hold up to the punishment of cyclocross then?
"I hit my rims probably 10 or 15 times a race," he says. "I check them every race, thinking 'Oh, I must have really ruined it today.' I'm always amazed but there's never a dent on my rims."
A road racer by trade, it seems McCormack likes to stick to a traditional drivetrain. On closer inspection though, there was one unusual add-on, bolted underneath the front derailleur. "I use a Third-Eye Chainwatcher inside my chainrings," he says about the inexpensive molded plastic catch that prevents his chain dropping completely off. "Should my chain come off, I wouldn't have to reach down for it - it would just be right there ready to go," adds McCormack with confidence.
One other interesting twist on his bike is the brake set-up. "I run my brakes reversed - left hand operates the rear brakes," he says. "Which is for dismounting - I prefer to be set up on the left side of the bike to control my speed with my rear brake. I set both my 'cross and mountain bikes this way - anything off road. My road bike is set up normally."
The result of all these choices is that McCormack's Felt F1X is in fact lighter than his road bike. "I would guess it weighs 16 pounds," he says rather casually By any standards, that is one light bike.
Images by Steve Medcroft
Frame: Felt F1X (Scandium 7005 Superlite custom-butted aluminum)
Cranks: Shimano Dura-Ace 10 speed, 39/46 chainrings
Rim: Mavic Ksyrium SL
Stem: Felt ST-22
Pedals: Shimano 959
Total bike weight: 16 pounds (approx.)