Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser won the 2013 Absa Cape Epic, and have returned to Cape Town, South Africa to race the 2015 edition of the eight-stage race. They're riding for Team Investec-Songo-Specialized, and are the race favourites.
Both Sauser and Kulhavy are on custom painted Specialized S-Works Epics. The one you see here is Kulhavy's. Both bikes showcase the colours of the South African flag, world championship rainbow stripes and the Songo.Info foundation. The bikes will be auctioned off following the event, with the money raised going to Songo.Info.
Kulhavy and Sauser are racing for Songo.Info
Originally setup by Songo Fipaza with the help of Christoph Sauser, Songo.Info aims to improve the lives of children living in South African townships by empowering them with sport, both recreational and competitive.
This will be Sauser’s last Absa Cape Epic and it's looking likely that his and Kulhavy's bike will auctioned off as the winning bikes of the 2015 event.
Kulhavy on his way to winning the third stage of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic
For a rider so accomplished, Kulhavy is apparently quite unfussy with his setup – with the exception of the unorthodox stem and saddle position, and his preference for stiff suspension.
For Kulhavy, stiff suspension ensures his power isn’t wasted. The Epic uses ‘auto-lockout’ Brain technology at both ends of the bike, which means the suspension only opens once a bump is felt from beneath the bike. This means there is no need for remote lock-out switches, so the handlebar is kept clutter-free.
The quick release thru-axles have been replaced with bolt-up axles. These are said to be stiffer, lighter and always secure
Up front there's a matching custom-painted RockShox RS-1 upside-down fork, which also features Brain technology. The fork is set up with 100mm of travel, which will apparently be reduced to just 90mm for the approaching world cup season.
Kulhavy says he really likes the new fork, except when the front wheel needs replacing in a hurry! The independent stanchion legs of upside-down forks tend to complicate wheel changes, so Sauser and Kulhavy both practised the process leading up to the race.
No need to tilt your head, Kulhavy’s Specialized Phenon saddle actually sits at this angle
The most noticeable aspect of Kulhavy’s setup is his dumped stem and equally pointed-down saddle. While this is unusual, it clearly works for him with an aggressive handlebar position.
In theory, this saddle position should allow a flatter back and therefore a more comfortable reach to an aggressively low and aerodynamic position. Another potential benefit is that Kulhavy could push against the saddle during seated efforts.
A downward tilt greater than three degrees is banned in professional road, time trial and cyclocross racing, but fortunately for Kulhavy, no such rule exists in mountain biking – his saddle is certainly well beyond these limits!
Kulhavy is the only rider (that we know of) at this year's Cape Epic pushing a 36t chainring
Kulhavy is riding with a SRAM XX1 Quarq power meter – not commonly used during mountain bike races – in the hope of collecting valuable data for future use. With the extremely harsh conditions on the route, Kulhavy turning over an impressively large 36t single chainring and the pressure-washing at the end of each stage, we’re betting this power meter hates its current lifestyle!
A CeramicSpeed bottom bracket is used between the cranks, and spins so freely that even riders from other teams were playing with it in amusement while the bike was being worked on.
With a 22mm internal width, the carbon Roval rims help to widen the otherwise skinny tubeless rubber
Kulhavy is using a lightweight set of Specialized Renegade Control tyres, set up tubeless on carbon Roval wheels with a hookless rim. The use of narrow 1.95in width tyres is an interesting choice given the rocky and loose conditions of the Epic, and one that goes against recent research that shows wider is faster.
These Control tyres are claimed to offer a 15 percent improvement in puncture protection compared to the lighter S-Works version – although that's clearly still not enough, as Kulhavy was suffering flats just like many of his competitors.
The Specialized Epic frame is able to carry two water bottles within the mainframe, giving Investec-Songo-Specialized an advantage over their closest rivals, who have to be more creative in how they carry much-needed fluids.
The longest stage of the race is 128km, and most others are near that, so the riders must be self-supporting with common spares between service zones. Kulhavy’s bike comes in at a surprisingly heavy 11.5kg (25.3lb).
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Specialized S-Works Epic WC 29, size large (with custom paint)
- Rear shock: FOX/Specialized with remote mini-Brain, 115PSI
- Fork: RockShox RS-1 100mm, with Specialized Brain damper, 120PSI
- Headset: Specialized sealed
- Stem: Specialized alloy, 130mm -24 degrees
- Handlebar: Specialized S-Works flat 700mm
- Grips: ESI Silicon
- Front brake: SRAM Guide RS-C, 160mm rotor
- Rear brake: SRAM Guide RS-C, 160mm rotor
- Rear derailleur: SRAM XX1
- Shift levers: SRAM XX1 trigger
- Cassette: SRAM XX1 10-42T 11-speed
- Chain: SRAM XX1
- Crankset: SRAM XX1 Quarq power, 175mm, 36T chainring
- Bottom bracket: CeramicSpeed PF30
- Pedals: Shimano XTR PD-M980
- Wheelset: Roval Control SL Carbon (DT Swiss 240s front hub)
- Front tyre: Specialized Renegade Control, 29 x 1.95in
- Rear tyre: Specialized Renegade Control, 29 x 1.95in
- Saddle: Specialized Phenom S-Works, 143mm
- Seatpost: Truvativ Noir T40, set back
- Bottle cages: Specialized SWAT
- Other accessories: Specialized SWAT MTB XC, Garmin Edge 500, GoPro saddle mount, Co2
- Rider's height: 1.87m (6ft 2in)
- Rider's weight: 76kg (167lb)
- Saddle height from BB, c-t: 788mm
- Saddle setback: 100mm
- Saddle to bar drop: 140mm (measured from highest point of saddle)
- Seat tube length (c-t): 470mm
- Head tube length: 120mm
- Top tube length (effective): 620mm
- Weight: 11.5kg (25.3lb), as pictured