Red, white and blue for the US national 'cross champion
By James Huang
The externally machined
The straight aluminum chain
The wishbone rear end delivers
tons of mud clearance
The stout rear brake housing
Cannondale has championed
the BB30 system for years
The lightweight Easton
bars are fitted with SRAM Red levers
The Control Tech Scored
99 stem and Viento CL bar
Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) was already amongst the easiest
to spot on the 'cross circuit last year with his high-visibility black-and-yellow
kit but the US national 'cross championship he earned back in December
rightfully justified a bold change.
With the exception of the new bright yellow Mavic shoes and socks,
this year's color palette makes no illusion as to Johnson's home country:
red, white and blue are the overwhelmingly dominant colors throughout
the frame, fork, saddle, seat post, handlebar tape and, of course, his
new team kit. Beneath the flashy new paint, though, much of Johnson's
equipment choices have carried over from last season - a likely advantage
if only in terms of consistency and familiarity.
As in years past, Johnson's bike is built around his signature Cannondale
XTJ frame which is reportedly off-the-peg stock save for the custom
finish. Double-butted 6061-T6 aluminum tubing is used throughout and
joined with slick-looking smooth double-pass TIG welds that Cannondale
claims are more durable than traditional single-pass joints. Front end
stiffness is provided by the 'Power Pyramid' down tube and hydroformed
top tube while stout chain stays and compact wishbone-style seat stays
offer the same effect out back.
"The best things about my Cannondale are its light weight and aggressive
geometry that fits really well with my riding style," said Johnson.
"I like to attack corners and tough technical sections and having a
bike that is quick to respond to my input. It pops out of corners and
seems to enjoy getting flogged week after week during the season. You
can't go wrong with that."
Johnson's Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate carbon tubular wheels carry
over from last year as well and also continue the theme with their light
weight (just 1185g per pair) and surprising stiffness. While the fairly
deep 40mm section provides aero benefits on the road, it's just the
thing to cut through sand and mud when it comes to 'cross.
Wrapping the rims are premium tubulars from heralded tire maker Andre
Dugast. After the usual round of pre-race experimentation at the Boulder
Cup, Johnson ultimately settled on the versatile Typhoon tread in the
floatier 34mm casing size to better handle the bumpy and hardpacked
course of Saturday and the tight, hard corners of Sunday.
"What's happened a few times is that the race pace is faster than anticipated,"
said Stu Thorne of title co-sponsor Cyclocrossworld. "Last week we started
on Pipistrellos [Dugast's fast-rolling semi-slick] and the race pace
was just fast enough that it wasn't the right tire in the race. It was
fine for a good, fast warm-up but the race pace went up just that one
notch higher so we didn't want to take that chance this weekend.
"It was a little bumpy and hard as a rock here," he continued. "[The
34mm casing] is just that much more volume and gives that much more
cushion. You don't lose a lot of energy in the frame so it's just enough
to give it some suspension."
SRAM continues on as a team sponsor and the top-end Red group again
graces Johnson's XTJ with the addition of the new BB30-compatible crankset
in lieu of last year's Cannondale Si unit. As compared to last year's
setup, though, key changes include an OG-1070 cassette instead of the
fancier PowerDome-equipped OG-1090 and a steel-caged Force front derailleur
(badged as Red) that apparently works better with the downsized SRAM
prototype 'cross-specific 39/46T chainrings.
"[The OG-1090s] are light and they're a great cassette," Thorne said.
"I love them, Tim loves them, everyone loves them but we don't want
to have to go through the hassle of switching cassettes if the weather
turns bad so we just set them up this way right from the get-go. The
weight savings isn't a big deal. Sure, if we could get the bike to sub-17lb
it'd be that much nicer but I'm not going to run any risks. Those cassettes
clog up immediately when you hit the mud."
Outsiders may view the parts swaps as stains on Red's reputation but
Thorne actually sees the relationship in a very positive light. Though
everything may not be exactly how the team wants it at the moment,
he is confident that it will all get there.
"SRAM is beautiful," he said. "They take all of the feedback we give
them on everything and they actually do something about it. It's incredible."
Case in point is Johnson's chain which was stamped with the Shimano
Dura-Ace logo as of the Boulder Cup but due to revert back to SRAM as
early as next weekend. Johnson has been testing prototype SRAM chains
with more aggressive chamfering for quieter running and stronger, harder
pins and side plates for better durability.
According to Thorne, "It's a whole new chain."
After this weekend's successful outing, Johnson will continue to aim
for good results with the end goal of a third stars and stripes jersey
at this December's national championships in Kansas City, Missouri.
"The first time I wore the jersey as national champ during the 2001
season, I was just a kid and didn't fully understand the importance
of it," said Johnson. "In the years since then, I've realized just how
hard it is to win it!"
Team sponsor Cannondale is likely hoping for the same outcome and not
just for marketing purposes. After all, if all goes well, the company
might even be able to make the argument that Johnson won't need a new
bike for the '09 season! To be continued in December…
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here