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By Fred Dreier
The climax of South Africa’s 2008 Absa Cape Epic mountain-bike race came in the final kilometers of stage 5, a hot, dusty 146km slog from Swellendam to Bredasorp on April 2.
Belgian Roel Paulissen rode the rim of a Mavic Crossmax SLR rear wheel for nearly 18 kilometers on gravel and pavement to preserve his Cannondale-Vredestein team’s lead. The sketchy move paid off: Paulissen and his teammate Jakob Fuglsang lost only three minutes on the day, and went on to take the race’s overall win four days later.
As for the wheel — the rim’s ridges were ground down to sharp, rough nubbins. But somehow the rim kept its true, and did not buckle under the stress. The rim was briefly on display at the Mavic support tent on the day preceding the Houffalize, Belgium, round of the UCI World Cup.
“It is still true, I spun it in my bike at the end of the stage and it was fine,” said Paulissen. “I could not believe it.”
Fuglsang, the reigning U23 world champion, was originally riding the wheel when he suffered a string of punctures. The duo had trouble with an air refill, and after one of South Africa’s infamous thorns tore a hole in the inner tube, Fuglsang thought the race was over.
But Paulissen, who had better legs that day, decided to trade wheels and ride the rim.
“Yes, it was a little sketchy in the corners. I was able to maintain perhaps 30kph on the pavement,” he said. “What else were we going to do? We had no other choice.”
Fuglsan’s stock Cannondale Scalpel was also at Houffalize, along with Paulissen’s bike. The two rigs were riding their final race before being retired to become training bikes. Paulissen finished eighth, and Fuglsang clawed his way into fourth.
The Scalpel is outfitted with full SRAM X-O and grip shifters, as well as Cannondale’s stock Lefty fork and a DT Swiss XR carbon rear shock. Its pre-loaded carbon chainstays flex, meaning the bike has no linkage on the rear end.
Fuglsang’s bike boasts few alterations. The Dane’s short axle Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals boast some cloth tape and superglue on their edges to add a harder platform.
South Africa’s infamous dust tested the Scalpel’s cables and housings, as well as the SRAM XO drivetrains, to the max. Team mechanic Jim Bryan said he replaced the chains and cables every other day. The tough riding conditions also took their wrath out on the rubber. The team rode Vredestein’s Tiger Claw fully tubeless tire, which is a bit heavier than a traditional dry condition tire. Bryan said he changed rubber every day, but the it paid off — in nine days of racing, the team had only two punctures.
“One day I pulled the tires off and counted 12 thorns in just two tires,” said Bryan. “The Stan’s sealer worked. Other guys were having problems; I think we did pretty well.”
Fuglsang showed up to tackle the muddy Houffalize course with just a handful of changes to his Cape Epic rig. While in flatter South Africa Fuglsang pedaled on a 44-tooth big chainring, his bike featured a smaller 42-tooth ring for Houffalize’s varied terrain. Lower shock pressure, only one bottle cage and Vredestein’s lighter Black Panther tires finished off the alterations.
“It’s pretty much standard stuff,” Bryan said. “We’re ready for all conditions.”