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Tech Trends from the 2021 Tour de France - here's what we saw and what they didn't want us to see

The Tour de France is a great place to spot some new tech and it's also packed with products that the sponsors would rather not talk about

The Tour de France is over for another year, leaving us with no other option than to get on with some actual work. But this is a great time to have a look back at the tech that we saw and while we couldn't be at the race in person, that didn't stop us from spotting some interesting products.

It is, however, a real shame that we couldn't be there with a camera. Along with missing out on the sun, seafood and lovely wine, the tech is what we really go for.

New Shimano Groupset and Wheels

Shimano Dura-Ace 7 (Cor Vos Agency)

The big one this year should have been some sort of new groupset from Shimano. They’ve been teasing us for months with various patents, one or two spy shots have been seen on some pro bikes and finally, last week, we got our first look at some unbranded components on the team DSM bikes. It wasn’t a fully finished groupset, but most of the components looked there or thereabouts to us so the release can’t be far off.

Shimano Dura-Ace 6 (Cor Vos Agency)

At the Tour, we were all set to look for extra details, especially shots of the brakes which we’re yet to see, as that is arguably the potential change that would have the most impact on us everyday riders. If Shimano makes improvements to the pad clearance, for example, we’d be very happy.

Shimano Dura-Ace 1 (Cor Vos Agency)

The problem is that the groupset never showed up, which is rather annoying. What we do know, however, is that it’s going to be a 12-speed system, the photos have confirmed that, and we have seen that the shifters have grown so we’ll see if we can learn anything about how those shifters talk to the derailleurs.

Shimano Dura-Ace 5 (Cor Vos Agency)

Will it be a fully wireless system? That looks unlikely, but it could still be semi-wireless as has been widely rumoured.

Shimano Dura-Ace 4 (Cor Vos Agency)

We’re still also unclear about the smallest cog size on the cassette. While you might not think that this matters too much, a move from an 11T cog to a 10T cog would probably mean a new freehub standard and that would be a massive pain for those of us with multiple wheelsets. If they did change things to allow that 10T, then Shimano’s own MicroSpline system would be the logical choice.

Shimano Dura-Ace 2 (Cor Vos Agency)

There’s also the question of where the new cog will sit within the cassette and also what the largest cog size will be. We’d imagine that Dura-Ace will step up to offer a 32T largest cog, up from the current 30T size and the extra cog will go towards filling a gap around the low 20s.

Can Shimano actually fit 12 cogs on the current freehub? That’s one of the big things that we were looking out for as thought that we might get the answer when the mechanics start leaving wheelsets around.

2021 Tour de France Shimano wheels unbranded - 1

Speaking of wheelsets, there have been what looks like new Shimano wheels kicking around the peloton for a few months. We've covered them in-depth previously and we saw them on a number of Shimano-sponsored team bikes.

One bike for all stages

2021 Tour de France Cavendish Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 - 1

A trend that we’ve seen for the past couple of years is a trend that was around about 10 years ago too and the mechanics probably love this one being back. Many of the big bike brands are sending their riders just one type of bike these days. So gone are the days, in most teams, where the rider could pick between a climbing bike and an aero bike.

> Video: The best do-it-all Tour de France race bikes

The bike is often light enough for the mountains, while also boasting aero touches. It must be easier for the riders just to have one bike to do everything. 

We’d bet this also makes the mechanics happy. They’ve got a smaller number of bikes to work on for a start. There are also fewer spare frames to store in the trucks and that can be applied to the various parts that go with different bikes.

Tubeless inserts

Without really knowing it, tubeless inserts have been around in the pro peloton for a few years. Kristoff was supposedly using them first, but we definitely saw them in last year’s race.

> Vittoria Air-Liner Road Tubeless Insert Kit

These are something that we've reviewed earlier in the year and for the pros, the use of tubeless inserts is all about safety. It allows the rider to roll along and corner without the tyre rolling off the rim.

Tubs for the mountains

pogacar rim brake bike - via aso.PNG

While tubeless tech might be getting better each year, there’s no taking away a pro rider’s tubular wheels and tyres when they get to the mountains.

Race winner, Tadej Pogacar, despite using Campagnolo's new Bora Ultra WTO tubeless wheels for some stages, was back on his tubular wheels for the two mountain stages that he won.

Disc aero bikes are light now

While the science suggests that weight doesn’t matter as much as was once thought, ask any racer that is about to ride a stage in the mountains whether they’d prefer aero or lightweight and the weight is going to win most of the time.

Thankfully, even with deeper wheels, loads of aero bikes are now sitting at or just a little over the UCI’s minimum weight limit. That didn't stop Kasper Asgreen from using the hyper-light Specialized Aethos on a mountainous day.

Sponsor-incorrect components

This Tour de France has been a vintage year for spotting products that sponsors would rather have remained hidden. Chris Froome takes the win for the chief offender. He's been on lightweight wheels, a non-standard brake calliper, his usual Osymetric rings and there was also talk of him switching back to rim brakes. This said, his team, Israel Start-Up Nation, are not a Shimano-sponsored team, so he's got a little more freedom to change parts than other riders.

Princeton CarbonWorks Peak 4550

Ineos has also been in on the act, riding some new Princeton wheels and also picking Lightweight wheels when it suits them.

Van der Poel might have spent the most on kit for one day. He used NoPinz/Aerocoach overshoes, a Lazer Volante helmet, Aerocoach Ascalon extensions, a Princeton Blur 633 disc which was driven 900km the day before the TT and an Aerocoach Aeox Titan front wheel. This little lot cost a whopping £4,300.

Mathieu van der Poel 02 Stage 5 Tour de France 2021 Picture credit A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Mechanics and reportedly Van der Poel himself were up until midnight before the TT sorting his position so he's just a few beers short of a true club 10 experience. 

Those are the tech trends and interesting bits that we saw at the Tour this year. Did we miss anything big and what was your favourite bit of tech? Let us know in the comments below.

Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.

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