To most onlookers at the opening UCI World Cup in Houffalize, the GT factory team camp was operating as a well oiled machine, powering US Olympic hopeful Todd Wells to a career-best 11th place finish on a brand-new GT Zaskar Carbon. But for both Wells and his teammate, Burry Stander, these bikes were not originally part of the race day plan.
Both riders were supposed to race on their familiar aluminium bikes from late 2007 while the new carbon frames waited in the team van until time allowed for a proper build and shake-out period later in the season. But a rash of thefts before the race left the GT riders without their intended machines, so the new carbon frames had to be fast-tracked to race readiness.
Despite a less than ideal lead up, there were no issues on the day and Wells was impressed with the Zaskar Carbon, which he later said rode "like a dream."
Wells' comments should perhaps come as no surprise as the new carbon frame is essentially a lighter, stiffer and yet more comfortable version of the aluminium bike he previously used.
"We wanted to come up with something new and so decided to go with carbon fibre, building a frame that is 1.2 kg for the medium size," said GT's director of product development Mark Peterman when the frame was introduced last summer. "There are frames out there of one kilo but these are strictly race-only. That's a bit restrictive. We wanted to make a frame that epitomised what Zaskar was about - something which was a bit more rough and tumble. A bike that was very stiff but also very predictable. One which was a lot of fun to ride."
Truvativ Noir crankset
In spite of the company's self-professed conservative approach in regards to weight, Wells' extra-large race day special is still a certifiable featherweight with a 9.1kg (20.2lbs) showing at the scales including the fairly standard, but intelligently chosen, build kit. SRAM provides much of the hardware with its X.0 twist shifter, Avid Juicy Ultimate hydraulic disc brakes, new 100mm-travel RockShox SID Team fork and Truvativ Noir crankset upgraded with a BlackBox ceramic bearing bottom bracket. As is the case with many top riders, Wells' pedal of choice is Crankbrothers' ubiquitous Eggbeater 4ti.
One area where there is a small tweak is the bottom bracket. Truvativ Noir cranks bolt into a SRAM RED bottom bracket borrowed from the road groupset. Ceramic bearings here give less resistance and much better longevity than standard bearing setups.
Another tweak comes across the board with the control setup. Wells was originally supposed to run the new Race Matte Karbon Ti carbon-wrapped stem (with titanium bolts) and Riser Karbon bar from team sponsor KORE but those bits were sadly lost in the theft. Luckily, the team had aluminium backups but we'd expect him to be back on the intended carbon parts in the near future.
The rest of the cockpit was filled out by aThe SDG seatpost, Kore carbon bar and stem with titanium bolts are all pre-production while the custom-stitched team-only SDG I-Fly saddle mounted atop an I-Beam seatpost is only made for GT team riders. The final customisation is care of Crank Brothers. The triple ti pedals have a ti spindle added to reduce degradation.
NoTubes ZTR Race wheelset with Kenda tubeless tyres
All of those components combine to save a lot of weight but Wells' NoTubes ZTR Race wheelset lops off a huge amount in one big chunk. Stan Koziatek's lightweight tubeless conversion system has revolutionised tyre selection and expectations when it comes to how light mountain bike wheels can be and his latest rim takes that even further. Each hoop weighs around 280g and a complete wheelset is an astonishing 1200g or so. According to Wells, they are durable, too, easily taking a season of World Cup events.
With Wells' old team bikes now rolling somewhere around eastern Europe, we can only hope that this new round of bikes will log a little more mileage this time around.