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Pro bike: Adam Craig's Rabobank Giant TCX Advanced SL

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Custom Dugast tubulars are wrapped around 50mm-deep Shimano carbon wheels.

Custom Dugast tubulars are wrapped around 50mm-deep Shimano carbon wheels. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Derailleur cables are normally routed internally on the Giant TCX Advanced SL but as Rabobank-Giant team rider Adam Craig is using Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, just one port is occupied.

Derailleur cables are normally routed internally on the Giant TCX Advanced SL but as Rabobank-Giant team rider Adam Craig is using Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, just one port is occupied. (Image credit: James Huang)
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For drier and faster conditions, Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) also has a set of Dugast tyres capped with Michelin Jet treads.

For drier and faster conditions, Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) also has a set of Dugast tyres capped with Michelin Jet treads. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) says the light touch on his Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 shift buttons took some getting used to but says he now appreciates the ultra-short throws in cold conditions.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) says the light touch on his Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 shift buttons took some getting used to but says he now appreciates the ultra-short throws in cold conditions. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) normally rides on Michelin tyres but this is the next best thing since the company doesn't make tubulars: Mud 2 tread on a supple 32mm-wide Dugast tubular casing. Craig calls the combination, "super awesome."

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) normally rides on Michelin tyres but this is the next best thing since the company doesn't make tubulars: Mud 2 tread on a supple 32mm-wide Dugast tubular casing. Craig calls the combination, "super awesome." (Image credit: James Huang)
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According to Giant, offsetting the top tube and seat stays allows the seat tube to flex more when loaded.

According to Giant, offsetting the top tube and seat stays allows the seat tube to flex more when loaded. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) is using Shimano's latest XTR PD-M980 pedals with their larger platform area and more widely spaced bearings.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) is using Shimano's latest XTR PD-M980 pedals with their larger platform area and more widely spaced bearings. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The central exit point for the rear brake is normally meant for cantilevers but here a 120

The central exit point for the rear brake is normally meant for cantilevers but here a 120 (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) says the electronic rear derailleur makes the bike easier to pack - simply remove it from the frame, unplug the cable, and tuck it away somewhere out of harm's way.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) says the electronic rear derailleur makes the bike easier to pack - simply remove it from the frame, unplug the cable, and tuck it away somewhere out of harm's way. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Shimano's latest Dura-Ace rear hubs feature faster engagement than before.

Shimano's latest Dura-Ace rear hubs feature faster engagement than before. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Despite the deep cross-section on the seat tube, Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) says the new carbon bike is more comfortable than his old aluminum one thanks to the built-in flex pattern.

Despite the deep cross-section on the seat tube, Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) says the new carbon bike is more comfortable than his old aluminum one thanks to the built-in flex pattern. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) has enough confidence in the strength of fi'zi:k's carbon fibre rails to use them for 'cross.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) has enough confidence in the strength of fi'zi:k's carbon fibre rails to use them for 'cross. (Image credit: James Huang)
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A deep cutout on the back of the seat tube provides an unusually generous amount of mud clearance.

A deep cutout on the back of the seat tube provides an unusually generous amount of mud clearance. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The integrated seatmast eliminates the possibility of a slipping a post during remounts.

The integrated seatmast eliminates the possibility of a slipping a post during remounts. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) goes the safe route with an aluminum bar and stem.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) goes the safe route with an aluminum bar and stem. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) is racing on a new carbon fibre Giant TCX Advanced SL.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) is racing on a new carbon fibre Giant TCX Advanced SL. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Shimano's hubs aren't known for being the lightest but the ample sealing should hold up well to power washing.

Shimano's hubs aren't known for being the lightest but the ample sealing should hold up well to power washing. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) runs the levers high on his semi-anatomic PRO aluminum bars.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) runs the levers high on his semi-anatomic PRO aluminum bars. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Given Adam Craig's (Rabobank-Giant) mountain bike roots, it's perhaps no surprise then to find a set of top-mount brake levers clamped on to his PRO bars.

Given Adam Craig's (Rabobank-Giant) mountain bike roots, it's perhaps no surprise then to find a set of top-mount brake levers clamped on to his PRO bars. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The offset down tube creates a handy exit point for the internally routed derailleur lines just below the bottom bracket shell's press-fit cups.

The offset down tube creates a handy exit point for the internally routed derailleur lines just below the bottom bracket shell's press-fit cups. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) runs a wide-range 11-27T cassette.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) runs a wide-range 11-27T cassette. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Meaty chain stays contribute to the snappy drivetrain response.

Meaty chain stays contribute to the snappy drivetrain response. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The wide-range cassette is matched to tightly spaced chainrings.

The wide-range cassette is matched to tightly spaced chainrings. (Image credit: James Huang)
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There's generous clearance down by the bottom bracket and no shelf on which mud can collect.

There's generous clearance down by the bottom bracket and no shelf on which mud can collect. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The oversized lower steerer tube allows for a bigger crown and more widely spaced fork legs for gobs of mud clearance.

The oversized lower steerer tube allows for a bigger crown and more widely spaced fork legs for gobs of mud clearance. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig's Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 crank bears the marks of lots of use.

Adam Craig's Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 crank bears the marks of lots of use. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Despite the smooth look, the dropouts on the TCX Advanced SL are alloy for greater durability.

Despite the smooth look, the dropouts on the TCX Advanced SL are alloy for greater durability. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The all-carbon fork features big cross-sections up top to help combat brake shudder.

The all-carbon fork features big cross-sections up top to help combat brake shudder. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) is one of a growing number of top riders who have made the jump to TRP's high-power CX 9 linear-pull brakes.

Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) is one of a growing number of top riders who have made the jump to TRP's high-power CX 9 linear-pull brakes. (Image credit: James Huang)
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According to Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant), the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 front derailleur has plenty of power to shift the chain even in heavy mud.

According to Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant), the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 front derailleur has plenty of power to shift the chain even in heavy mud. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The tapered OverDrive steerer not only makes for a stiffer fork but a stiffer front end in general as the down tube can be enlarged to match.

The tapered OverDrive steerer not only makes for a stiffer fork but a stiffer front end in general as the down tube can be enlarged to match. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Handwritten notes mark who the tyre was glued for and when. As for 'chicken', your guess is as good as ours.

Handwritten notes mark who the tyre was glued for and when. As for 'chicken', your guess is as good as ours. (Image credit: James Huang)

American racer Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) is best known for his exploits on the domestic cross-country and Super D circuits but he's no slouch on a 'cross bike, either. After years of slogging through the mud on an all-aluminum machine, he's now on Giant's latest TCX Advanced SL carbon superbike and isn't looking back.

In addition to being appreciably lighter than Craig's previous bike, more modern features like the tapered front end, press-fit bottom bracket shell, and the larger and stiffer down tube that connects the two also make for a notably more responsive chassis both in terms of drivetrain efficiency and handling precision.

Thanks to carbon fibre's more flexible shaping potential relative to aluminum, the frame designers were also able to build in much more mud clearance all around than before, too, plus clever internal cable routing and an integrated seatmast that's specifically tuned for comfort rather than stiffness.

"Oh, god," he told us with a chuckle when asked to describe the differences hours before taking the start line at the New Belgium Cup in Fort Collins, Colorado aboard his new 7.83kg (17.26lb) rig. "The thing's light and rides awesome - it's super smooth.

"The whole seat stay/top tube/seat tube junction area is actually a really good flex point and you feel that up through the ISP when you're seated. And then as soon as you're out of the saddle it's stiff. It's a rad bike."

A ride that suits the rider

Craig admits that he didn't play much of a role in the bike's development - that was left to Rabobank's full-time 'cross racers over in Europe - saying he didn't come into the process until prototypes were already built and just provided feedback. Even so, he says the overall feel and quick geometry are nevertheless well suited to his style of racing.

"I didn't have a tonne of input on it because I don't race 'cross full-time. I like to think I know what I want out of a 'cross bike - I want the BB low enough to corner well and have a short rear-centre to keep things tight and quick and we were able to achieve that for sure."

Craig's choice of brakes further highlights his hard-charging handling technique, where he's been known to adapt some of his motorised skills to the 'cross course. Rather than opt for the more traditional wide-profile cantilever arms to save weight and gain mud clearance, Craig forgoes center-pull brakes altogether in favor of TRP's increasingly popular and far more powerful CX 9 short-arm linear-pull calipers plus supplemental top-mount levers to more closely emulate the feel of his mountain bike.

"When you actuate your brake lever, your bike stops - it's super cool. It's hard to wrap my head around," he said in disbelief at what many other racers are all too willing to put up with.

"Those brakes were worth their weight in gold last weekend in LA [where it was] kind of grippy but kind of slippery hardpack with a bunch of hard braking into corners and a bunch of needing to steer your bike. You'd lose the front wheel and you can trail a little rear brake to bring your front wheel back in. It's just basic bike riding techniques that I can actually finally use on my 'cross bike."

So why do most people still use traditional cantilevers or even worse, wide-profile Euro-style brakes? Craig certainly doesn't pull any punches in his reply.

"Because most people suck at riding," he said, jokingly. "And they don't know any better. They think that the wide-profile Mafac thing is cool, which it was back in 1954 when they thought of them way back in the day."

Craig admits, though, that while most privateer racers in wetter climates do have to concern themselves with pad clearance in the mud, he not only often has the luxury of a pit bike but also a support mechanic to take care of both machines.

Even so, he feels it makes more sense to choose your equipment based on the rule rather than the exception, and in many cases - at least in the US - that rule is dry and fast.

"I've got a guy in the pits so if my brakes are jammed up with mud I'll stop and get my other bike and ride that for a couple of laps and then I'll have a new bike so it'll be a non-issue," he said. "[Fort Collins] has been the first muddy race of the year and when you're riding a motorcycle on a race track, you're either on the brakes or on the gas and when you're on your bike you should be doing the same thing.

Like you should be accelerating until you need to slow down at your braking point and with those brakes you can actually achieve that so I'm fired up that Lance [Larrabee, at TRP USA] was able to bring that to market. They're awesome."

Doin' it Di2 style!

As a long-time Shimano-sponsored athlete, Craig's bike is expectedly so equipped nearly from head to toe, including a Dura-Ace Di2 group, 50mm-deep carbon tubular wheels - wrapped in custom Dugast tires with two varieties of grippy Michelin treads - the company's latest wide-platform XTR SPD pedals, and an aluminum bar and stem from PRO. Finishing things off are a carbon-railed Tundra saddle and bar tape from fi'zi:k.

Shimano has touted Di2's quick and accurate shift performance since its introduction two years ago but Craig is quicker to laud its reliability and durability, even in adverse conditions.

"That's just the next step for the zero-maintenance 'cross bike," he said. "The Di2 stuff is amazing. You set it up at the beginning of the year and provided you don't bend your derailleur hanger in shipping you forget about it for the rest of the year and maybe charge the battery if you remember to or maybe not - whatever.

"Initially I kind of thought that the differentiation between the upshift and downshift paddle was a little close but now that I've gotten used to it it's so great. On a day like today where it's bumpy and cold and your fingers are all numb anyway it's so nice to just feel that tap and get a perfect shift every time. The motors are strong enough to work in the mud. I'm super impressed."

Craig says his ultimate goal is to have a "zero-maintenance" 'cross bike with hydraulic discs added in, but accepts that that'll be a while given the UCI's recent surprise ruling. But with well-protected, fully internal cable routing for the rear brake and that electronic transmission, he's not far off.

Complete bike specifications

Frame: Giant TCX Advanced SL, size M/L
Fork: Giant TCX Advanced SL
Headset: FSA Orbit IS 1 1/8"-to-1 1/4" tapered
Stem: PRO PLT, 110mm x -6°: include length in cm, center-to-center
Handlebars: PRO PLT, 44cm (c-c): include width in cm, center-to-center
Tape/grips: fi'zi:k bar:tape
Front brake: TRP CX 9 w/ Shimano carbon-specific pads
Rear brake: TRP CX 9 w/ Shimano carbon-specific pads
Brake levers: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 STI Dual Control ST-7950 w/ Salsa top-mount levers
Front derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 FD-7970-F
Rear derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 RD-7970
Shift levers: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 ST-7970
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace CS-7900, 11-27T
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace CN-7900
Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace FC-7900, 175mm, 39/46T (Dura-Ace 7800 outer ring)
Bottom bracket: Shimano Dura-Ace press-fit SMI-FC7900
Pedals: Shimano XTR PD-M980
Wheelset: Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-C50-TU
Front tyre: Custom Dugast tubular w/Michelin Mud 2 tread, 32mm
Rear tyre: Custom Dugast tubular w/Michelin Mud 2 tread, 32mm
Saddle: fi'zi'k Tundra Carbon
Seat post: integrated
Bottle cages: n/a
Computer: n/a

Rider's height: 1.80m (5' 11")
Rider's weight: 76.2kg (168lb)
Saddle height, from BB (c-t): 775mm
Saddle setback: 85mm
Seat tube length, c-t: -
Seat tube length, c-c: 540mm
Tip of saddle nose to C of bars (next to stem): 569mm
Saddle-to-bar drop (vertical): 90mm
Head tube length: 160mm
Top tube length: 560mm (horizontal)
Total bicycle weight: 7.83kg (17.26lb)