Todd Wells (Specialized) made good on his status as the favorite for the 2011 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships, winning the title for the second year in a row ahead of Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) and Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant). The Sun Valley, Idaho course featured a healthy amount of singletrack on the way down but a brutal fire road on the way up that Wells says demanded the lightest possible equipment.
"This course was a lot of climbing – more sustained climbing than we have at any races nowadays – so I just picked the lightest setup, which was the Stumpjumper 29er hardtail and some low-rolling-resistance tires," he told BikeRadar the following morning. "Really, I just picked everything based on that climb."
Wells' S-Works Stumpjumper 29er is the same 21in model Specialized offer to the public – it even has the same paint scheme – and it's a rocket for climbing with its super-light weight and outstanding pedaling efficiency. Wells' tire of choice was the fast-rolling but reasonably grippy and relatively high-volume Specialized S-Works Renegade 1.95, set up tubeless with just 24.5psi up front and 26psi out back to keep from flatting on the course's two manmade rock gardens.
Todd Wells used fast-rolling S-Works Renegade 1.95in tires on carbon Roval Control SL wheels to win his latest US national cross-country title
The rest of Wells' setup was well in keeping with that lightweight theme, including a custom Specialized/RockShox Reba S29 fork with its crown/steerer and inertia valve auto-lockout feature, SRAM XX transmission with Specialized's own FACT OS integrated carbon fiber crankset, Avid XX brakes with 160 front/140mm rear rotors, Specialized Roval Control SL 29 wheels with carbon fiber rims, a Specialized carbon fiber seatpost and carbon-railed Phenom Pro saddle, and a feathery Syntace carbon fiber low-rise bar and forged aluminum stem – in the smaller 25.4mm bar clamp diameter to save a few extra grams.
Even the ESI Racer's Edge silicone foam rubber grips are among the lightest available, and CrankBrothers Eggbeater 11 pedals are the obvious choice for shedding mass with their minimal design and mostly titanium construction. The only non-standard bits were wheel skewers and a seatpost collar from Carbon Ti – both custom etched and anodized for the team. Total weight as pictured is an outstanding 8.64kg (19.05lb).
Needless to say, getting your name printed underneath the clearcoat isn't a standard factory option
Gearheads will undoubtedly point out, though, that Wells could have quickly and easily saved even more weight. "For a course like this where it's just smooth and fast, I thought about running our really skinny 1.8in Renegades because they're super-light," he said. "But I rode through the rock garden just one time and cut the side of the tire. I'd run through it a couple of times, too, and it was only a second or two slower but I wanted to try and stay on the bike so I went with a bigger volume tire."
Wells could also have dropped lots of weight with 26in wheels, but after making the switch to 29ers two years ago, he says he's unlikely to go back. "I don't know – they're different styles of riding," he told us. "Riding a two-six is still a lot of fun. I have a dirt jump bike that's a two-six and I have a bigger bike that's also a two-six. They're easier to whip around and they feel snappier and more responsive than a two-niner. But for racing, it's hard to go back and forth between the two bikes so I doubt [I'll ever switch]."
Specialized don't use a through-axle on the front of their S-Works Stumpjumper 29er but the hugely oversized hub end caps seem to do a good job of keeping flex at bay
Wells' overall setup doesn't change much from course to course, save for tire models, tire pressures and suspension settings, as he prefers to keep things consistent for familiarity and predictability. "Today I'm going to run a bigger-volume tire – either the Renegade or Fast Trak," he told us on the morning of the Nationals short track race. "It's fast but there are also a lot of loose corners. But [I'll run] lower tire pressure today for sure because we don't go through the rock garden and that was the one section I was worried about flatting on yesterday. I ran 26[psi] in the back and 24.5 in the front – I'll probably go with 22 or 23 in the front and 24 in the back."
"Sometimes we change the shock pressures a little bit," he continued. "If it's a rough course we'll run a little lower pressure so the shock works more and I'll open the Brain [inertia valve] more. On a slow, rough course – like Mont-Sainte-Anne where there's a lot of uphill or flat technical sections and you're not going very fast – I'll have the Brain left open more so the shock is less likely to close."
Specialized keep the top tube and down tube very wide to provide extra front triangle stiffness
We caught team mechanic Sandy Gilchrist clipping half of the center knobs off a Specialized S-Works Fast Trak tire the night before the short track. According to Gilchrist, Wells wanted to keep those as an alternative tire for the course's gravelly corners where the slightly more open pattern provided a touch more grip.
Wells wasn't able to score the double repeat, finishing just behind Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski who put in a late surge on the last lap to earn his fourth national short track title. Even so, you'd think that a rider with Wells' pedigree who'd just won yet another stars-and-stripes championship would get a matching custom bike afterward to celebrate, right?
Not so fast. Wells said he wasn't expecting anything and in his trademark understated style, he didn't seem a bit upset about it. "[Specialized] have so many great athletes on their team that if it's not a world championship, it's like [shrugs his shoulders and laughs]," he said humbly. "It's good and bad – to be surrounded by such great athletes, it's pretty cool."
Even star riders couldn’t do their job successfully without a reliable machine – Todd Wells (Specialized) put his money on personal mechanic Myron Billy for this build
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Specialized S-Work Stumpjumper 29er, 21in
- Fork: Specialized/RockShox Reba S29, 90mm travel, 110/100psi positive/negative pressure
- Headset: FSA Orbit integrated, 1-1/8 to 1-1/2in, Campagnolo standard
- Stem: Syntace F99, 105mm x -6°
- Handlebar: Syntace VRO Vector Lowrider Carbon, 670mm
- Grips: ESI Racer's Edge:
- Front brake: Avid XX World Cup BlackBox, 160mm rotor
- Rear brake: Avid XX World Cup BlackBox, 140mm rotor
- Brake levers: Avid XX World Cup BlackBox
- Front derailleur: SRAM XX
- Rear derailleur: SRAM XX
- Shift levers: SRAM XX
- Cassette: SRAM XG-1099, 11-36T
- Chain: SRAM PC-1091
- Crankset: Specialized S-Works FACT OS, 175mm, with Truvativ XX 39/26T chainrings
- Bottom bracket: Specialized S-Works OS integrated
- Pedals: CrankBrothers Eggbeater 11
- Wheelset: Specialized Roval Control SL 29
- Front tire: Specialized S-Works Renegade, 29x1.95in, tubeless conversion, 24.5psi
- Rear tire: Specialized S-Works Renegade, 29x1.95in, tubeless conversion, 26psi
- Saddle: Specialized Phenom Pro
- Seatpost: Specialized S-Works Carbon
- Bottle cages: Specialized S-Works Carbon Rib Cage (1)
- Other accessories: Custom etched Carbon Ti skewers, custom etched Carbon Ti seatpost collar
- Rider's height: 1.88m (6ft 2in)
- Rider's weight: 76.2kg (168lb)
- Saddle height, from BB (c-t): 792mm
- Saddle setback: 88mm
- Seat tube length, c-t: 535mm
- Seat tube length, c-c: 484mm
- Tip of saddle nose to C of bars (next to stem): 635mm
- Saddle-to-bar drop (vertical): 68mm
- Head tube length: 130mm
- Top tube length: 640mm (horizontal)
- Total bicycle weight: 8.64kg (19.05lb)