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7th February 2020 / Comments (2)

Shimano Dura-Ace: Beyond the Road

Shimano Dura-Ace and Mathieu van der Poel

Shimano are the dominant component supplier at Worldtour level with a 66.7% share of the field. It’s no surprise that World Cup Cyclocross teams also look to the Big Blue when it comes to equipping their teams with high performance and durable groupsets. What will surprise you is that cyclocross teams are not using off-road specific groupsets like GRX. Far from it.

Reigning World Champion Mathieu Van der Poel and many of his adversaries are dishing out the pain on Shimano Dura-Ace. If you have ever looked longingly at Shimano’s flagship groupset and dismissed it as delicate road jewellery, think again.

Shimano Dura-Ace at Hoogerheide

Hoogerheide crowds gather to see their heroes.

UCI Cyclocross World Cup, Hoogerheide

ADVNTR spent an icy cold weekend in the Netherlands with Shimano, at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup, Hoogerheide, in order to see up close, how Dura-Ace can be used and abused in the world of competitive cyclocross. The demands and needs pro cyclocross racers place on their equipment are far removed from those of the vast majority of everyday riders, but that doesn’t stop us from drooling over the latest and greatest kit that the pinnacle of our sport uses.

Shimano Dura-Ace

Cleanest drivetrains you’ll see anywhere.

It also presented us with an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of a top level cyclocross event. When your only experience is of regional championships in the UK held on a school playing field, the contrast is immense.

Shimano launched the latest R9100 series Dura-Ace at the Tour de France in 2016, with the Di2 R9150 — the hydraulic disc brake/electronic shifting version of the series arriving the following year in 2017.

Canyon Aplecin-Fenix

Keep it clean.

The Electronic Age

For many pro teams, mechanical groupsets are consigned to the past. Alpecin-Fenix with whom Van der Poel is signed, have a long established partnership with Shimano, stemming back to 2008. In that time, have seen the development of Di2 evolve into the class leading groupset it is today. Technology has seen component sizes shrink, the rear derailleur is now smaller than previous generations and better protected if a rider gets close to the barriers or has a crash. The durability, speed and constant perfect shifting, have won over even the staunchest technophobes.

Van der Poel

Van der Poel hits the warp drive.

Wandering through the team areas at the Hoogerheide round of the Cyclocross World Cup, I could see that many of the Shimano riders were running 46/39 chainrings combined with an 11-28 cassette. Single ring configurations were conspicuous by their absence. Astounding a gravel cycling fan like myself. I ask Alpecin-Fenix manager Christoph Roodhooft who nonchalantly shrugs “there is no need, the Di2 front derailleur shifts so reliably and give 2-by gives a better spread of gears. Dropped chains are not an issue.”

Shimano Dura-Ace

Van der Poel leading at Hoogerheide.

My own experience of Di2 echos that of Christoph’s. The benefits of the electronic groupset is all about simplicity. It works at the click of a button no matter how you try to strain the system. You can change gear under load with no need to hesitate your power input. Despite mashing buttons and stomping erratically on the pedals, it has never failed on me.

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Wash & Go

I watch numerous riders bikes go through several cleans throughout the day following warm ups and during the race, with the components taking plenty of abuse. In the service area, the drone of pressure washers is constant as pit crews blast muddy bikes clean. The Dura-Ace Di2 components in direct firing line of the water jets. It is the complete antithesis to the average cyclists cleaning regime, but the bikes roll back out under the power of professional athletes without fault or hesitation.

Shimano mechanics

Race, wash, prepare, race… Repeat.

The crowd are only cheering on one rider, Mathieu Van der Poel. A cacophony of cheering follows him around the course and fans run from viewpoint to viewpoint to catch a glimpse of their hero. With another display of dominance in the Cyclocross Amphitheatre, the crowd are satisfied enough to retire to the huge beer tent and raise a glass (or several) to Van der Poel.

Van der Poel Victory

Another Shimano equipped victory.

On top of the performances by the athletes riding the groupset in cyclocross, the performance of Dura-Ace coping with the mud, sand and dirt of the Hoogerheide course, plus several jet washes in a single race day, is impressive. The true extent of the rigours can be seen in our Hoogerheide Cyclocross World Cup Gallery.

To learn more about Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, click here.

Hoogerheide Cyclocross World Cup Gallery

All photos: Irmo Keizer/Shimano

Last modified: 8th February 2020

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Jouko Aroheinä
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This is my experience with Di2 as well, perfect shifts every time, in any conditions. Here’s my old CX/gravel bike with 1×11 Di2; https://flickr.com/photos/jokkea/48827896078/in/album-72157676818351220/