One of the highlights of the ‘cross races coming to town is the opportunity it provides to check with the top riders and bikes on the national scene (see our ‘cross report # 1). Of them all, no one does a better job at it than the Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld.com team. Moto heads might well know of the Monster/Pro Circuit Circuit team effort in the motocross world, and if there was a parallel in the ‘cross world, the team put together by Stu Thorne would be it.
As the founder of one of America’s premier ?cross specific race shops, CyclocrossWorld.com, Stu has supported and surrounded himself with some of the best racers in the land for years. Of course, of them all, six-time ‘cross champ Tim Johnson is the standard bearer for the team, and for the 2012/13 season, he’s been joined by former mountain bike National Champion and 2x ‘Cross Champ Ryan Trebon, Jamey Driscoll and U-23 ‘Cross Champ Kaitlin Antoneau. We caught up with Stu and the boys (Kaitlin stayed home to study for school) to check out their new Cannondale Super Six ‘cross bikes (as well as the prototype SRAM hydraulic brakes on Tim’s bike).
RBA MINI-VIEW: MEET STU THORNE
RBA: You have been working with Tim Johnson for quite a while now.
Stu: Yeah, probably about 17 years now. I think it was back in 1995 when I drove him to a Wednesday night ‘cross practice in Concorde, MA. And basically after that, well, the rest is history. In the years since Tim and I were first going to the races we started the team and we’ve enjoyed having a roster of great riders, including Tim’s wife Lynn, Ben Jacques Maynes and Jeremy Powers.
RBA: You’ve been in business for over a decade now, have you seen a shift in the seasonality of the ?cross season?
Stu: Oh definitely. Our phones would start ringing in mid-September and the shop used to really start ramping up for ?cross season in October and November. Now, as soon as the Tour de France is over, our season has begun! It’s funny because everyone knows when the season starts, but it still seems so chaotic trying to get everything done.
RBA: Cross Vegas (held during the Interbike trade show) has really come on as an important race hasn’t it?
Stu: It has. I think having the industry there helped immensely, but yeah, it’s become an important race. I think another reason it’s grown is that it’s an early season race so it’s brought some good Euro riders over for it. I know some people don’t think it’s a real ?cross race, more like a grass criterium, but it’s now the official kick-off to the season and whether it’s Belgian sand or Vegas rye grass, the competition is tough and it makes for good racing.
RBA: In terms of new product, what’s some of the current trends?
Stu: Disc brakes really are the big thing this year and all the manufacturers have embraced them with new disc specific models. And I mean really, mountain bikes have had disc brakes for 15 years, so it’s about time that ?cross bikes are capable of stopping efficiently in all conditions. It’s great to see them finally become legitimate because our dependence on cantilever brake designs from 1946 just made no sense at all.
Under the tent (L-R), Ryan Trebon, Jamey Driscoll and Tim Johnson warm-up before the race.
RBA: It seems that carbon frames are also becoming more popular, but what about the cost? What should entry-level cyclocross riders be looking for?
Stu: Yeah, all the big bike brands have ?cross specific carbon bikes, but there are still some really good aluminum bikes out there. If I was new to the sport, the first thing I would ask myself was how serious I was about racing. To just start out there are plenty of good bikes out there for $2000. I wouldn’t go below a Shimano 105 level drivetrain. In fact, instead of one fancy carbon bike for $4000, I would get two identical $2000 bikes so that way you’d have your spare bike that you swap parts out on. You can get a good $2000 bike with disc brakes that will really serve you well as an all-around bike to ride through the winter.
RBA: As the sport evolves and the ‘gravel bike’ market matures, will the ?cross bike become irrelevant?
Stu: Not at all. I don’t know about the gravel bike market. I mean the last thing we should be doing is narrowing the market of bikes down even more so that you have a bike that’s only good for one type of riding. The thing I like about ?cross bikes is their all-around versatility. To me, the cross bike is the best all-purpose bike. You can race it, put some smooth center ?cross tires on it for riding dirt roads and we even have one customer who puts slicks on his ?cross bike and races crits on it.
Besides the Pro team. Stu’s bike shop also sponsors a grass-roots cyclocross team and you can score team gear by joining as a member of the team. Photo: Cyclocrossworld.com
RBA: Just as it is with road bikes, wheels and tires play a big role in performance with cyclocross.
Stu: Yeah, for our team we of course run tubular and for anyone who is serious about racing ?cross,, I would tell them that the best thing they could do is to learn how t glue on tubular. I know the expense has to be considered and that’s what all product buying decisions need to be based on the level of a riders’ participation. The clinchers have definitely gotten a lot better, but the tubular, and the Dugast specifically, is the best tire you can use. I know there’s this big mystery about gluing tires and although it is a tedious process, it’s really not that hard. I can assure anyone that the performance and ride quality benefits are definitely worth the hassle.
Succeeding in cyclocross comes down to being prepared for the worst and that often comes down to having some spare bikes at the ready. Yes, as the number on the bottom of the seat tube indicates, this would be the number four bike of six that each rider has to their name: two in Europe, a home bike and 3 in the truck at the races. As Stu says, “You always need two bikes to have on course with one on the truck for spare parts.”
RBA: How would you rate the weekend in Los Angeles?
Stu: It was good, but it surprised a lot of us from the east coast. Like the conditions last year, you always expect it to be sunny and 85 degrees, but instead it was 55 and rainy. The L.A. course doesn’t have a lot elements to it so having the mud made it a bit more entertaining. Still. coming out of Sunday’s race with first and second place is what we’re there for.
RBA: I know you can’t really talk about them, but how did the new SRAM hydraulic disc brakes work on Tim’s bike?
Stu: It all went well. This was actually a good race to test them out because so much of the course is made up of long straights and sharp turns that require good stopping power. If the cousre had more sweeping turns where he’d be dragging the brakes it wouldn’t have been as a good a test, but no, we had no issue with the brakes. Did that not answer the real question well enough?
RBA: Yeah, you did great, thanks. So what comes next for the team?
Stu: We have the series finals in Bend, Oregon this weekend and then Tim will go to Europe for two World Cup races. Then there’s Christmas, followed by the National championships in Madison, WI and then the big one – the World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky on February 2 & 3.
Just how serious the Cyclocrossworld.com team takes the ‘cross season in evident the pits as Stu and his crew are always at the ready for a bike swap. Ryan’s bike is the one with the 93cm seat height and the black wall Clement tires. Tim is the only rider on the team running the hydraulic brakes.
RBA: Yeah, I imagine that’s gonna be a huge event. What’s your take on it?
Stu: We’re really excited about it. I mean to get the ‘cross worlds in America is just great and really enforces the idea of it being a global sport. I would tell anyone remotely interested in the cyclocross to be sure to be there because all the best riders from Europe will be there. I’m not sure how the Americans will do. I mean, the Euros are so fast to begin with and I think the men at least might be riding less as a team than as individuals, but we’ll see. It’s also been good to see how receptive the city has been.
Even as the team owner, Stu plays a working role on the team just like everyone else.
RBA: Okay, last question, are we at a stage now where riders can be full-time ‘cross riders?
Stu: Probably not, but I think we’re getting close. I mean right now all the top riders have second gigs, mostly as road racers and few, like Ryan and Todd Wells, as mountain bike racers. For riders who want to excel at ‘cross, sure, they need to look at their calendar to plan their breaks in the schedule. You definitely need to be ready for ‘cross season come late summer. I don’t have much patience for riders who say they can’t do it because the top riders are all doing it now.
Stu is an avowed fan of Dugast tubulars. He said they were running between 24-25 psi for the L.A. race.
Here’s where all the time and effort pays off.