Success in a Mountain Bike Stage Race relies on a number of variables. As a rider, you must be physically prepared. Experience also counts, in terms of knowing how to not lose your head, and when it is worthwhile using your energy to get a gap on the field. Using the right equipment is also a huge advantage – not just in terms of quality, but using the right parts for the terrain you will encounter.
For the Ingekerreke Commerical MTB Enduro, Race Leader Andrew Blair has chosen a Felt Nine Carbon for his bike. Although the course is quite rocky, Blair favours a hard tail – as do most of the top end of the field. The 29er wheel size allows for easy rolling on the flatter terrain, and great stability when fast.
Wheels can make or break a bike choice. You need something that works for how you ride, with reliable hubs, and certainly something that runs tubeless. Like many riders, Blair runs NoTubes ZTR Crest rims. He’s has had these laced to Dt 240 hubs by Wheels by Bosch. Custom built wheels are one of the best ways to improve your bikes feel and performance. The Maxxis Ikon EXO 29 x 2.2″ tyre is popular for many riders (including Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team members) as it has a big bag, rolls quickly, and is very strong for it’s weight. Blair has used this tyres strengths to his advantage, creating gaps over others in the field whose smaller tyres dig into the sand. Tubeless is a must, and Blair runs Spex sealant.
Spares are essential. Rapid Ascent stipulate that a First Aid Kit must be carried – and that is usually strapped onto the bike somewhere. Blair places his under his seat. The tube isn’t just a standard tube, but one pre-filled with Spex sealant. If you flat, you probably have thorns bedded into your tyres too – so the sealant will help here. CO2 is the obvious choice for air, and Blair has a few rolls of gaffer tape wrapped around one of the cartridges for sidewall repair.
Two bottles is a clear bonus for Stage and Marathon racing – as is the use of strong cages. Most hard tails will carry two bottles, most dual suspension bikes take one. This helps swing the decision for a lot of top riders, as hydration is key.
It’s rocky out there, and bikes need to last. Carbon fibre is very strong, but like most riders, Blair makes sure his is protected by FrameSkins for any rock strikes. Blair is sponsored by SRAM, so runs a full XX group set, including the 26/39 combination of chainrings. He also uses a 100mm SID World Cup fork up front.
Small things make a difference – and as the ICME has a night stage, Blair brought the big guns along. He had two sets of custom tuned Radical Lights to use. They offered him daylight like vision, so he rode off the front of the race and didn’t even feel like he put too much effort in. Most riders use a Garmin these days, and Blair is no different. It’s an Edge 500 unit, as like a lot of top athletes, Blair doesn’t like to be told where to go. but you can find him on Strava.
Today is the last stage, and Blair has a pretty big lead on General Classification. but those behind still have some shuffling to do.