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Pro bikes, November 4, 2008

Tim Johnson's Cannondale - Cyclocrossworld Cannondale XTJ

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Photo ©: James Huang

Red, white and blue for the US national 'cross champion

By James Huang

The externally machined head tube
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The straight aluminum chain stays
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The wishbone rear end delivers tons of mud clearance
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The stout rear brake housing stop
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Cannondale has championed the BB30 system for years
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The lightweight Easton EC90X fork
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Johnson's traditional-bend bars are fitted with SRAM Red levers
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The Control Tech Scored 99 stem and Viento CL bar
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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

Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

Full specification

Frame: Cannondale XTJ
Fork: Easton EC90X

Critical measurements
Rider's height: 1.78m (5' 10") ; Weight: 63.5kg (140lb)
Seat tube length, c-c: 505mm
Seat tube length, c-t: 550mm
Top tube length: 540mm (horizontal)
Saddle height, from BB (c-t): 734mm
Saddle nose tip to C of bars: 523mm
C of front hub to top of bars: 600mm

Front brake: TRP CR950 w/ SwissStop Yellow King Rx pads
Rear brake: TRP CR950 w/ SwissStop Yellow King Rx pads
Brake levers: SRAM Red DoubleTap
Shift levers: SRAM Red DoubleTap
Front derailleurs: SRAM Force (badged as SRAM Red)
Rear derailleurs: SRAM Red
Cassette: SRAM OG-1070, 11-26T
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace CN-7801
Crankset: SRAM Red BB30, 172.5mm, w/ prototype SRAM 39/46T 'cross-specific chainrings
Bottom bracket: SRAM BB30


Wheelset: Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate
Tyres: Dugast Typhoon, 34mm

Bars: Control Tech Viento CL, 42cm (c-c)
Stem: Control Tech Scored 99, 100mm x -5°
Headset: Cane Creek with integrated cable hanger
Tape/grip: fi'zi:k bar:tape

Pedals: Shimano XTR PD-M970
Seat post: Control Tech Ipost
Saddle: fi'zi:k Aliante

Total bike weight: 7.5kg (16.5lb)