This article originally published on BikeRadar
Nicole Duke may spend the majority of her saddle time on a cyclo-cross bike these days, but her background as a downhill racer and motorcycle rider still shines through if you know where to look. Though she's best known for her explosive starts, Duke is also a skilled handler and her new Marin Cortina T3 CX Pro is set up accordingly.
"My riding style has always been influenced by the motorcycle – I started there when I was seven," she told BikeRadar. "Then I moved on to downhill where I had to adapt a bit, but the body language always stayed the same. Now in 'cross, I've lost the suspension and more technical features but I still know how to handle the bike and, most importantly, carry my speed out of turns."
As a result, Duke has chosen to run a 52cm frame size and relatively short 90mm stem for better maneuverability, despite standing at a rangy 1.78m (5ft 10in). And though recent trends in road racing have found many riders moving to narrower bars, Duke has instead gone with a generously proportioned 44cm set.
"Most people think I should run a larger bike but because of my influence from BMX and downhill I always prefer to run smaller bikes for better handling," she said. "I run wide bars for more control. I do have wider shoulders than most women so the 44s are not such a stretch. My moto and downhill bikes have always had wide bars so I feel most comfortable like this."
Duke may not have changed much in terms of her positioning in the past few seasons but she's certainly had to readjust to more than her fair share of bike models. She was on a Cannondale SuperX Hi-Mod with Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld.com in 2011, a Raleigh RXC Pro with Raleigh-Clement at the beginning of 2012, and then made a late season switch to an Alchemy Balius just a couple of months later.
Despite the instability, Duke insists it hasn't overly affected her ability to attack a racecourse.
"I've switched bikes a lot in the last four years," she admitted. "The beginning of the season is always a bit harder because of this. Usually it only takes me a few rides to get adjusted. My last two bikes – the Alchemy and the Marin – are fairly similar in size and angles so this made it much easier. With my Alchemy I took a lot of the measurements from my Cannondale and tweaked them just a bit. So all in all, my bikes haven't been too different."
Duke may have stumbled into some fortuitous timing, however. On the whole, Marin are enjoying a resurgence in terms of product and their carbon fibre Cortina T3 CX Pro is all new for this season with modern features such as a tapered head tube, PressFit 30 bottom bracket shell, internal cable routing, and lightweight tube-to-tube construction – not to mention hydraulic disc brakes that are well suited to Duke's skill set. The company's similarly fresh collection of mountain bikes should cater to Duke's intentions to jump into the enduro scene next season too.
"Although fairly similar in measurements and angles, my Marin and my Alchemy ride differently," said Duke. "The Marin's bottom bracket is much stiffer so I am getting much more power transfer. The low bottom bracket gives me great control in the corners and this is where I like to excel. The bike is light and responsive – just what I need for my snappy riding style."
Marin spec the stock Cortina T3 CX Pro with an electronic Shimano Ultegra Di2 group but Duke's bike is instead fully loaded with bits from long-time supporter SRAM, including a Red 22 HRD group, Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubular Disc wheels, and Zipp carbon fibre and aluminum cockpit components.
Duke makes the usual 'cross-specific substitutions on her Red 22 HRD group, such as a more mud-friendly SRAM PG-1170 cassette and Avid's older G2 rotors, which several racers have said work better in nasty mud than the newer HS1 pattern.
"I find they work great and are really consistent," she said. "I have ridden the stock brake pads all season so far but we have not had any mud. Usually when I race in Europe in the extreme mud I switch from the organic pads to the metallic ones for more longevity."
Capping things off are a Fi'zi:k Arione Donna saddle, colored-to-match Crankbrothers Candy 11 pedals, Clement tubular tyres, and WickWërks' new Red 22-compatible chainrings in the increasingly popular 44/34T size.
Total weight as pictured is just 7.65kg (16.87lb).
Duke runs Avid G2 rotors instead of the lighter Red option