In the end it wasn't his day – he was seeking his third stars-and-stripes 'cross jersey but ended up in fourth place – but it's unlikely his top-end S-Works Tricross was to blame.
The bike's highly sculpted form stands in stark contrast to Wells' previous mostly-round aluminium frame. The top tube is wide and extremely flat for easier shouldering but also bowed to lend some vertical flex to the front end, and the curvaceous seatstays closely mimic those of the company's road-going Roubaix model.
Up front, the matching carbon fork boasts an extra-wide stance and both the fork blades and seatstays are graced with gobs of mud clearance plus Specialized's unique Zertz elastomeric inserts to damp low-amplitude, high-frequency vibrations. Down below is Specialized's usual oversized integrated bottom bracket.
According to Wells, all of the shaping isn't just for show. "The one thing I've noticed with the carbon is that it soaks up the bumps way more," he said. "I don't know if it's the way that fork is designed or the carbon frame but usually I get blisters at the beginning of the year like crazy on my hands and this year I've had no problem."
Wells' 58cm frame is bone stock but for a couple of subtle racer-only changes. In keeping with Specialized's versatile 'Freeroad' billing, consumer versions normally include water bottle mounts on both the seat tube and down tube plus fender mounts on the seatstays but both have been eliminated on his team-spec version.
Wells has had to make some adjustments for the non-custom geometry, though. He says he went with a 58cm rather than 60cm frame in order to get a lower bar height (the 60cm's head tube is 25mm longer) and indeed, there are just 10mm of spacers beneath his adjustable-angle stem, which is set to an aggressive -13 degrees.
The smaller frame size netted a top tube roughly 10mm shorter than before, but that was easily remedied with a longer 110mm stem and also brought with it the side benefit of faster handling on account of the correspondingly shorter wheelbase. "I like the bike smaller for cyclo-cross," he said. "I feel like I can manoeuvre it better and jump on it easier so I went with a smaller frame and a longer stem."
The SRAM logo can be found on the shifter/brake levers and transmission, and TRP supply their popular EuroX Magnesium cantilevers but the Specialized moniker is again plastered on the ultralight S-Works carbon crankset, bar and stem, saddle and seatpost, and even the prototype tubular tires (Specialized currently only offers 'cross tyres in clincher varieties).
The prototype tubulars are handmade by renowned tyre makers FMB and feature an aggressive Specialized Captain tread hand-glued to a fat 34mm casing and further customised with shaved centre knobs that he tediously cut himself. According to Wells, the combination gives him the best of both worlds: a fast roll with good drive and braking traction but also copious amounts of cornering grip.
"I like the file treads but I like the old [Dugast] Pipistrello ones that have the side knobs," he said. "Some guys don't mind the squishy feeling when you run really low pressure and then it doesn't matter so much what tread pattern you have because it's always flat on the ground but they're squirming around.
"I like to run a harder tyre pressure [27psi front, 29psi rear] but when I do, in order to get the traction I need, I need the side knobs. I run these tyres with the knobs clipped down when it's fast enough to run file treads but then it gives me some traction in the corners."
The Specialized name is even found on the carbon-specific brake pads, custom made for the company by SwissStop. Wells says they offer better initial bite than other pads he's used, which better suits his size and weight, especially in wetter conditions. "Because I'm a pretty big guy, I feel like sometimes the carbon-specific pads don't give me the grab soon enough if it's cold out there or slippery with mud," he said.
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Specialized S-Works Tricross custom, 58cm
- Fork: Specialized S-Works Tricross
- Headset: Cane Creek integrated
- Stem: Specialized S-Works Pro-Set, 12cm x -13°
- Handlebars: S-Works Ergo SL Carbon, 44cm (c-c)
- Tape/grips: Specialized S-Wrap
- Front brake: TRP EuroX Magnesium w/ Specialized Roval Carbon pads
- Rear brake: TRP EuroX Magnesium w/ Specialized Roval Carbon pads
- Brake levers: SRAM Red DoubleTap
- Front derailleur: SRAM Force
- Rear derailleur: SRAM Red
- Shift levers: SRAM Red DoubleTap
- Cassette: SRAM PG-1070, 11-26T
- Chain: SRAM PC-1090R
- Crankset: Specialized S-Works, 175mm, 39/46T
- Bottom bracket: Specialized S-Works ceramic
- Pedals: CrankBrothers Eggbeater 4Ti
- Wheelset: Zipp 303 Cyclocross
- Front tyre: Specialized prototype tubular by FMB, 34mm
- Rear tyre: Specialized prototype tubular by FMB, 34mm
- Saddle: Specialized Phenom SL 143mm
- Seatpost: Specialized S-Works FACT Carbon
- Other accessories: Gore Low-Friction derailleur cables and housing, Cyclocrossworld.com Belgian rim tape
- Rider's height:1.88m (6ft 2in)
- Rider's weight:79.4kg (175lb)
- Saddle height, from BB (c-t):800mm
- Saddle setback:125mm
- Seat tube length, c-t:532mm
- Seat tube length, c-c:585mm
- Tip of saddle nose to C of bars (next to stem):600mm
- Saddle-to-bar drop (vertical): 95mm
- Head tube length: 170mm
- Top tube length:575mm
- Total bicycle weight:7.23kg (15.94lb)