This article originally published on BikeRadar
Second only to the World Champion’s jersey in the eyes of Belgian cyclo-cross fans, the Belgian National Champion’s jersey is a tremendously coveted prize, and as current incumbent, Klaas Vantornout’s stock has never been higher. Not content with the bold black, yellow and red tunic, the Sunweb-Napoleon Games rider’s bike sponsor Ridley has adorned his fleet of race bikes with custom Belgian paintwork, too.
At the Gavere Superprestige event, Vantornout was equipped with five Ridley X-Nights, each built identically for the race. If that sounds impressive, consider that every race bike was fitted with a set of wheels with identical tyres, but before every race, Klaas might select that day's race choice from three or four different tyres, which will all be mounted to wheels and ready to go. That’s a lot of wheels, a lot of tubulars, and a whole lot of gluing.
Much of the componentry adorning Vantornout’s bikes is aimed at reliability and simplicity, because there’s no time for fussy finessing in ‘cross. Ridley’s in-house components arm 4ZA, or Forza, supply their Cirrus Pro bar and stem, the 12cm aluminum stem affording 186cm/6’1” Vantornout sufficient reach, with a 42cm carbon bar plenty wide enough for the rider’s slim build, but around 25mm of spacers are needed below the stem to create the ideal position. The seatpost is a 27.2mm diameter carbon Cirrus Pro, supporting a titanium-railed Cirrus saddle, and the post is secured by Ridley’s usual twin clamp design, with an upper clamp gripping the seatpost above the seat tube clamp, preventing the likelihood of post slippage from repeated remounting and rough terrain.
Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 has proven itself to be robust and reliable enough in the gnarliest ‘crosses; Vantornout still runs a ten-speed setup. Whether that’s through choice due to cassette spacing, or because they simply don’t have enough groupsets to change over, we can only guess. One deviation from Dura-Ace was an Ultegra 11-28 cassette, fitted because of the long climb at Gavere, whereas Klaas normally uses an 11-27 for most races. The other was a Rotor 3D+ chainset and bottom bracket. The hollow Rotor 3D+ cranks are light and stiff, and in this instance fitted with a Dura-Ace 46-tooth outer ring, and black anodised 39-tooth inner.
A Rotor chain keeper was also bolted to the front mech for peace of mind, especially as it’s almost impossible to pedal a dropped chain back on with electronic shifting, and such an innocent incident could mean the difference between a podium and nowhere.
The rear mech was interesting because Vantornout’s mechanics were trying out a homemade addition to the lower jockey wheel on two of his race bikes. Gavere is notorious for jamming rear mechs with mud, and tearing them from the frame. Indeed, on our course ride the previous day, five laps with no more than a scraping of the worst filth with a stick between each one saw a Red 22 rear mech bite the dust. A rectangular piece of plastic bike number was fixed between the jockey wheel bearing cover and the derailleur cage, on the outside of the chain. It doesn’t snag the chain, allowing it to run within around 1mm, and is intended to slice any mud from that side of the chain and at least slow down potential jamming of the rear mech, possibly increasing speed. Vantornout finished 3rd on the day, and didn’t suffer any mechanicals, with the plastic shield surviving intact, so in that respect it may have been successful.
A homemade mudguard shields the lower pulley
The team are supplied with Dutch FFWD wheels, and Vantornout’s race bikes were fitted with either the 45mm deep F4R (claimed 1245g), or shallow 20mm deep F2R, both spinning on robust DT Swiss 240S hubs, and laced with 20 front and 24 rear J-bend spokes. The F2R, with its claimed weight of 1100g, is intended as a featherweight climbing wheelset, rather than a cyclo-cross special, but Klaas likes their speed and continues to use them, despite often cracking rims.
Challenge supplies the tyres, and the Gavere course was unquestionably a day for full mud tyres, meaning Limus tubulars were the only realistic option, their increased weight over the Grifo paying off with increased grip. Stopping duties are taken care of by 4ZA Cirrus Pro CX cantilevers that have a conventional design but great fine adjustment, and yellow Swissstop pads made for the FFWD rims. Vantornout uses Shimano’s XTR M980 pedals, which, along with their XT cousins are popular on the ‘cross circuit, and complete an almost complete Shimano build.
Total weight of this bike, including the heavier Challenge Limus tubulars was 7.46kg, or 16.45lb, and on another, less muddy day, lighter wheels and tyres could shave 250g more.