This article first appeared onBikeRadar.
When it comes to achieving consistent results within the Australian mountain bike scene, Andy 'Blairy' Blair is a name often high in the rankings – whether that's in cross-country eliminator (XCE), Olympic discipline, marathon or even enduro mountain biking. Blair's first race for Australia was at the Cairns World Cup in 1996. At the time he was just 17; now, with more than twice that life experience, he's preparing for his return to Cairns to represent Australia on the world stage.
Based in the nation's capital, Canberra, Blair has easy access to a strong local race scene featuring the likes of Olympian and 2013 World Cup second-place finisher Dan Mcconnell. As a full-time engineer, Blair shares the same challenges as many of his local competitors: having to balance a career outside sport with the demands of being an elite athlete.
For 2014, the team Swell-Specialized rider and 2012 marathon national champion has shifted his focus to the shorter, faster format of cross-country Olympic (XCO) racing. Blair told BikeRadar: "I'll be racing the opening two World Cup rounds in hope of qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. There's only three spots available for the men and between the strong U23 field and the likes of Dan Mcconell, it's going to be tough."
"My national season didn't go how I'd planned, I've been fighting a mystery virus since the first round in Adelaide and only recently have I been finding my speed – even though I don't feel 100 per cent. I'm going to need a strong performance at the world cups to prove myself for Commonwealth Games selection."
BikeRadar took a look at Blair's new 2014 race bike before a recent national XC round. Riding a mostly stock 2014 Specialized S-Works Epic WC, there's little Blair has changed beyond the saddle, grips, tyres and brakes. We've previously reviewed this bike in detail and found it be a true ‘no-excuse' race weapon.
At 10.11kg, it's not a superlight rig, but keep in mind it's a dual-suspension 29er in a large frame size. Furthermore, Blair's marathon success has led him to run with reliability over ultimate low-weight.
A standout feature is Specialized's own Brain technology that keeps the suspension locked out against rider input but reactive to bumps beneath – it's not new technology but something that continually gets better with each year's revision.
As a SRAM-sponsored rider, it's not surprising to see Blair with a full XX1 groupset and matching brakes. Blair's frame is single-ring specific and has no capability to mount a front derailleur, enabling Specialized to further stiffen and lighten it with an oversized drive-side chainstay.
Specialized is starting a war on the hydration pack: part of the new SWAT system allows for two bottles in this dual suspension frame
Although the stock bike includes Specialized's new SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) box for emergency repair storage, Blair wasn't running one. "I actually don't have one, otherwise I'd probably use it. I always carry spares with me. It's often quicker to repair your own tyre or chain than run to an allocated service zone, even on a 5km lap course."
The pre-production Specialized saddle is perhaps the most exciting item. It appears to be a new S-Works level Phenon saddle; Specialized's mountain bike-specific saddle but with carbon rails and what we think could be an overall lighter construction.
Click here for the gallery to see a more detailed look at the bike.